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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Well, blow me down!

The funniest thing happened yesterday morning. I had come inside from my morning crosswalk duty, and I had stopped off to use the restroom before picking my kids up. I used a general bathroom, which is usually empty at that time of the morning, but on this day, there was a little kindergartener in there.

This kid stands at about two foot nothing, and he's standing there at the second urinal, with his pants down to about mid-leg. I walk in and start to do my business.

This little kid finishes, takes a step back, and sneezes. Some combination of the sneeze, the lowered pants, and the simultaneous fart, knocks the kid down. He actually fell to the floor, sort of backwards and sideways.

As he's trying to right himself like a turtle that's been flipped over, I'm trying not to bust a gut from laughing.


This week's Mr. Teacher column on education.com is titled "No, put THAT one THERE!" It's about a familiar topic for those of you who read this blog, which is what's been going on in my district, with the Reduction in Force and all the transition.

Check it out!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fuzzy math

I got a new kid in my class last week who really can't read, and I'm still a little iffy on his math skills. The first day he was with me, we took a test, and looking at his answers made me really question his methods.

The thing is, it's true when they say that there are multiple correct methods to get to the correct answer. I just don't think I had ever seen the method that this kid utilizes. He apparently does a math problem the same way Billy from Family Circus runs all over the neighborhood, following that convoluted dashed line.

An example problem:

The test was mostly over simple subtraction. One of the questions was 99-69. The good thing is that this boy shows his work on his paper, so I was able to CSI it and do a little forensic math investigation to track back how he solved the problem. As near as I can tell, here is how he solved 99-69:

First, he stacked the numbers up, as he should:
99
-69
----

Next, he looked at the Ones place, saw 9-9 and decided to regroup (or borrow). So he crossed off the 9 in the Tens place and made it an 8. Then he crossed off the 9 in the Ones place and made it a 19.

He subtracted 19 - 9 and got 10. So he put the 0 in the Ones place of the answer space and regrouped again (carrying the one this time). Now, he had an 8 AND a 1 up above the Tens place, so he added them and got 9. He then subtracted 9 - 6 and got 3, which he put in the Tens place.

Voila, his answer was 30, the correct answer.

Oh, and did I mention little "sticks" were everywhere, enabling him to do the actual subtraction and adding of each step?

I think if I give this kid 9 hours for each test, he will do OK...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No more TAKS?

So let me tell you this story about this CRAZY bus driver/TA we have at my school...

Just kidding. Inside joke. :)

I'm a little behind on my newspaper reading for the week, but one of the last stories I read in the Dallas Morning News suggested that the TAKS test may be going away!! Well, no, I don't think the news is quite THAT good, but it did suggest that the TAKS may not be so influential in deciding kids' fates.

They may do away with the requirement that 3rd graders and 5th graders HAVE to pass TAKS to be promoted to the next grade level. Also, a school's performance rating would be based on a 3-year average, instead of only one year of data.

I just hope it's not replaced with something even more ridiculous!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Save a forest, use the back of the paper!

The good folks at education.com have moved my Mr. Teacher column to Thursday, beginning this week! So if you were wondering why it wasn't up on Tuesday, now you know! This week's column is titled, "Roughing It in the Woods," and it's a summarization of some writing assignments I did with my former students. We had been talking about forest ecosystems, and they wrote some pretty funny things about their imaginary forest homes.

On the same topic, what is up with kids not understanding that they can and should use the BACK of a piece of paper?? Every day, I have to struggle with the kids to make them use the back of the page! Yesterday, a girl turned in her homework with THREE extra sheets of notebook paper that she had done her work on. The back of the original homework sheet was completely blank, there were about 5 problems on the front of each sheet of paper, except for the third, which had 2. What a waste!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Names and carnivals

3rd day of dual language instruction with my new classes, and I don't think I called anybody by the wrong name today!

This week's Carnival of Education is up and running over at The Infamous J's place. J starts things off with a poem about moles. Not the member of the rodent family, but rather the chemistry term for a quantity of matter. Yeah.

But hey, don't let that throw you! I mean, some people are into moles, some people are into Darth Vader and math...

Check out the Carnival and leave some comments!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When you plan to fail, you fail to plan

You know, as a brand new English language arts teacher, I'm looking for all of the tips and guidance I can get on how to put my lessons together and what to do for my kids. So it sure would be nice if the vaunted Curriculum Planning Guides (CPGs) that the district tells us to follow were actually UP TO DATE!!!


It's Tuesday of the 9th week of school, and the plans for the 10th week aren't even online yet!!!


As Cliff Claven would say, "What's up with that??"


I'm thinking the people in charge of writing these things, DEFINTELY need to buy this shirt...



Monday, October 20, 2008

New school year -- day 1

That's right, it's like a brand new school year! OK, so I didn't have to worry or fret TOO much about moving to a new room or decorating it (though I'm sure that I'm supposed to have more up for my bilingual students now). But 40 brand new kids, along with all of their brand new names??!! Come on, it's completely like starting over!

Thankfully, I have just enough room in my cupboard classroom under the staircase (thank you Harry Potter) to squeeze in 20 students per class, and thankfully, the kids seem to be pretty sweet. It's entirely possible they're really little monsters who are still scared of me and are waiting to show their true colors, but I really don't think that's the case. I think they worst I'll have to deal with is some chatty cathys. Or, given the makeup of my class now, some chatty carlottas.

I think I spoke more Spanish today than I have cumulatively in the past 2 years. I know all of my numbers pretty well, so any time I said a number in English, I would try to say it in Spanish. Also, a few phrases came back, so I would say them.

In one class, I have a little boy who speaks no English at all. During the morning activities, I noticed that he was moving along at a VERY slow pace. The first question on the board for the day was 79 + 231. This boy had written "79 + 231 = _______" Then he had skipped a line, and was midway through writing out the second problem. Yep, without even solving the first one.

I had told all of the kids earlier NOT to try to solve a problem like that horizontally (I used more words, but simpler words, but hopefully we're all adults reading this blog) because that's the "baby (ie, First Grade) way." I told them they need to "stack it up" so they can align the proper place values.

So when I saw this boy hadn't even solved number one, I went over, and told him, "Escribe dos cientos trienta uno aqui." The other kids at the table immediately looked at each other in amazement that this white-bread teacher could throw down a little es-pan-yole. (also, the kid solved the problem in about 45 seconds. Maybe he just needs a Spanish-language kick in the culo each morning.)

My former class went crazy whenever they saw me this morning. Which was kind of nice. They like me, they really like me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Where's Joe the Plumber when you need him?

Just a quick example of exactly how UN-polically savvy I really am...

Yesterday was an early release day, as well as being my last day with the kids I've taught for the past 8 weeks. Because of the schedule, there wasn't time to have every class sit in the cafeteria and eat for the usual 30 minutes, so on our shortened itinerary, we had to go to the cafeteria, get the food, and bring it back to the classroom to eat.

The kids sat at their desks and ate, and I sat down at one of the tables with a few kids. The boy next to me, we'll call him A, is extremely bright, extremely friendly, just a great all-around kid, and one of my favorites. To my great amusement all year long, though, when he talks, he sounds exactly like Ralph Wiggums from the Simpsons. "I bent my Wookiee!!"

As I'm chewing on my hamburger, A says in his high-pitched voice, "I wonder who Obama's running mate is?"

OK, first, I should say, that is the sort of question that has NEVER EVER been asked in my classroom, and I showed my true colors in my answer.

I told him, "That person's name is Sarah Palin."

He immediately replied, "Nuh-uh! That's John McCain's running mate!"

Holy crap, he's right!! I am such an idiot when it comes to politics...


On Monday, I'll have 2 brand new groups of kids. One of these kids was in my class last year, and he seemed to be going through cold sweats when I walked into his room yesterday. Another is a boy I've referenced before because he tells me everyday "You're tall." 3 of the kids in the new 40 I'll have don't speak any English and need to have a peer translator. I'll try to use my rudimentary Spanish to help them out.

"Me gusta pollo y arroz!!"
"Yo soy maestro grande!"
"Por favor, no hablando en el bano!"

These kids are in for quite a year...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'm still standing

First of all, let me say thank you so very much to everyone who's been keeping me and all of the DISD teachers in your thoughts and prayers. I really appreciate all of the support and kind words that you've offered.


Today was a day unlike any others. Filled with more turns and surprise twists than M Night Shyalaman's small intestine, it didn't end until 8 o'clock, thanks to parent-teacher conferences.


I began the day thinking that I most likely wasn't going to get reassigned to another campus, but that I would no longer be a 3rd grade teacher. More like CONVINCED I was not going to teach 3rd grade anymore. Of our 8 3rd grade sections, 4 are dual language (a bilingual teacher paired with an ESL teacher) and 4 are Gen Ed. Put together, the 4 Gen Ed classes have 43 kids total, so I figured the odds were very high that 4 classes would become 2 by the end of the day. Mrs. Math has more experience than I do, and Ms. Jenn Ed teaches reading (which I never have), so I figured they would be the 2 teachers remaining in the Gen Ed wing. My espanol is not so bueno, so I couldn't slide over to the vacant bilingual spot, and I was all but sure that the ESL spot had been filled by a 2nd grade teacher moving up.


Weighing my options outside of 3rd grade, I knew nothing was open in 4th grade, 2nd grade has had the same low numbers that we've had all year, so there would be no new spots there, and 5th grade is beyond my certification.


That left 1st grade and Kindergarten.


I LOVE the movie Kindergarten Cop. However, in reality, I wouldn't wish the sight of a large man blowing a whistle frantically while chasing rowdy kids around the room on anyone. And that is exactly what I would be in either of those spots. "It IS a tumor!!!"


But there was one other possibility. It would involve a radical change, and be totally different than anything I had done before. Not quite as radical as joining the cafeteria staff, but close.

Our technology specialist has taken the retirement option. His spot is vacant. My choice seemed to boil down to becoming the school's IT guy or becoming the school's worst 1st grade teacher.


This whole debate was raging in my head last night. So all day today I was completely convinced that I was going to be the new IT guy. So why wasn't my principal calling me down to her office to reassign me?


At 8:50, all of the 2nd graders and 3rd graders had to go down to the auditorium for an assembly in which our principal told the kids that many of them were going to have new teachers, though they would be teachers they already knew. She confirmed the fact that the 2nd grade teacher was moving up to the vacant dual-language ESL spot. She also told the kids that she, the principal, was retiring and that Friday would be her last day. We the staff had learned that bombshell yesterday afternoon.


By 9:30, I still knew nothing.


By lunch time, I still knew nothing.


Around 12:30, I learned of another big surprise. The OTHER dual-language ESL teacher had been reassigned to another campus. Suddenly, there seemed to be potential room for both Mrs. Math AND me to stay in 3rd grade spots.


12:45-1:30 is our planning period, and most of my grade team sat in my room and talked about what was happening. The teacher who had just learned she was leaving was very gracious and accepting of the change. She also mentioned that in her meeting, our principal had told her to ask me if I wanted her position (the teacher position, not the principal position).


Uh, yeah, but she still hasn't come to talk to me!


School ends, and I still haven't heard anything officially.


(Had I mentioned tonight was also parent-teacher conference night?)


Conferences -- which I won't even spend any time on except to say that of my group of 20-some kids who said they were going to come, FOUR showed up with their parents -- began at 4:00, and I still knew nothing.


FINALLY, sweet relief at 4:30! After a meeting of the campus leadership team, I got the official word that I could accept the dual-language ESL position if I so desired.


I so desired.


So, to sum up, after a nerve-wracking, heart-pounding, DISD-induced day of stress, the final verdict is that I am now a 3rd grade dual-language ESL teacher, responsible for teaching math and language arts in English to a group of kids who also get reading, science, and social studies in Spanish.


The nervous tension is over; let the controlled chaos begin.


I have never taught reading before, so that's a bit daunting. But I need the skill, so that's a plus. I'll miss having my kids in class, but I'll still be just a few doors down, so I can still see them. I also think that the classes I'm inheriting are a pretty good group of kids, which is not something I've been able to say about a lot of years.


Monday is going to be VERRRRRRY interesting...



In related news, a DISD teacher has had an essay published in Newsweek, and it's worth a read. Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wednesday's teacher is full of woe

Ah, precious Tuesday... Enjoy it while you can, Dallas teachers. May I humbly suggest that you check out this week's Mr. Teacher column on education.com, titled "Benchmark This!!" It is of course all about the frustrations of district benchmark testing, which we underwent last week.

Also, for anyone who has not yet signed it, I've got a really nifty piece of gadgety Guestbook down at the bottom of my page. All you folks coasting in to read, please sign it before you head out!

Now down to brass tacks...

Tomorrow is going to SUCK. It is going to be atrocious. Hellacious. God-awful. Battlefield Earth-esque.

Tomorrow is the day that the news comes down about who stays, who moves, and who loses their job.

The other day, one of the kids in Mrs. Math's class asked her what was going on, since his parents had been talking about the news. So Mrs. Math explained how the district had made some mathematical mistakes when adding money. The student said, "But we've been adding money all week! Why can't THEY add money??"

There's been a lot of speculation and rumors about how things are going to play out. They range from the wildly fanciful --

"I heard that teachers will be taken down to the principal's office, told they're out of a job, and then beheaded right there!!!"

"I heard they're breaking out the tar and feathers!"

"I heard that they would be fired and then forced to eat those Halloween Circus Peanut candies, which I swear are just orange spray painted styrofoam!"


To the mundane --

"Teachers will be told and then they have to go right back to their class and keep teaching."

To the utterly ridiculous --

"Teachers that are reassigned to another school are expected to be at that school, teaching their new class, on Thursday."

I know someone at another school who says that teachers who are let go will be escorted from the building right then and there, subs will cover those classes, and the teachers will not be allowed back until after school.

I hate to think that these poor teachers (who have done absolutely nothing wrong other than to work for a district that can't handle money properly) would be shown such little dignity or respect, but it may just happen.

For anyone NOT going through this right now, please keep us in your thoughts and prayers...

____________________________________________

Update:

Tuesday night: 7:30

Got an email through the district server that says they've decided to push the layoffs back a day to Thursday. So all that stuff I said above? Yeah, just take it and reapply it to Thursday. Only throw in Parent-Teacher Conference Night for good measure.

As Seth Meyers and Amy Poehller would say, "REALLY, DISD?? REALLY??"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Design most foul

My brother sent me an email the other day that listed the "2008 Construction Awards." There was a hilarious list of architectural blunders, including a balcony off a solid wall, a staircase leading to a ceiling, and others. Here was one of my favorites:




And another wonderful example of construction at work:




But here's my absolute favorite. Maybe just because I'm a guy, or maybe it's because we have something that's ALMOST just like this at my school...




Thursday, October 09, 2008

That's just cruel

Today around 3:15, I was in my room planning out next Thursday night's parent conference schedule with my partner, Ms. Jen Ed. An announcement came on over the loudspeaker. "The following people need to come to the office immediately..." Accompanied by a list of names which included Ms. Jen Ed's.

She looked at me and said, "Well, that's it, I'm being cut!" Actually, hers was the first name called, so she said that and then gasped after each successive name, especially when a long-term teacher's name was spoken.

About 15 minutes later, I saw her in her room again, and I asked what had happened. Those people had been called to the office to pick up a school T-shirt.

I guarantee that never before in the history of ever has a teacher gone to pick up a T-shirt, completely in tears. (Not Jen Ed, but one or two of the others who feared the worst)

That's just cruel...

Kind of reminds me of the joke about the general who can't decide the best way to tell one of his soldiers that his mom has died. So he lines his men up and says, "Will everyone who's mother is alive please take one step forward. Not so fast, Private Johnson!"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Refrain from refraining

This week's Mr. Teacher column over on education.com is titled "Yes, I am a veritable giant." It refers to an oft-repeated phrase that I hear directed my way at the school. Check it out and feel free to add your own often heard comments...

I looked at a few of my kids' science benchmarks today. Yes, most of them really do believe that the best attire for an outdoor investigation is shorts and sandals...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bubbles are fun!!!

Benchmark tests started today! Let the celebration begin!!


Oh wait, we don't normally celebrate things we absolutely despise, now do we? Yes, I absolutely DESPISE the benchmark tests. Why? Well, let's see... They're usually not aligned with what we've been teaching, the questions are often quite difficult, the kids aren't allowed any reading assistance whatsoever, and they only have one hour to take the test.


Today, we gave the science benchmark, so the one hour time limit wasn't a bad thing. The math and reading tests though are going to be a bummer, because one hour simply is not enough time for my kids to do their best on those two subjects.


And speaking of doing their best, one of my kids received his science benchmark test booklet and his answer document, and he just did what came naturally. If you're thinking he opened the booklet, selected the best answer for question number one, and then carefully bubbled in the corresponding letter on the answer document -- Well that's just ridiculous!


No, he put his booklet off to the side and proceeded to randomly fill in bubbles on the answer sheet. Despite the fact that there were only 20 questions on the test, this boy filled in choices for all 50 possible answers. I have no earthly idea what he thought he was doing. However, since this is also my young man who has absolutely no letter-sound recognition, perhaps he just didn't feel like reading.


It's really quite bizarre. This boy is a very good at math, but he can hardly read, and his writing is atrocious. Last week, he was making a poster of the water cycle, and I questioned him about some of his labels. I asked him what he meant when he had written "Coton." He told me that was clouds. Rain was labeled as "ruid."


We're not talking sloppy, illegible handwriting here (although his handwriting IS sloppy and often illegible). These words were distinctly misspelled, and not even close to being correct.


Tomorrow is the reading benchmark test. I can't wait to see if my boy decides to actually read the test first this time!!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lay me off from the ball game

For those of you living through or following the situation here in the Dallas ISD, you know things are looking pretty dire. To sum up the story in a nutshell, people who should know better apparently made a very 3rd grade error in their math while doing the budget for the past few years (misplacing the decimal by about 6 spots), and now us lowly workers are left to face the consequences.

Ask anyone around here about what RIF means to them, and unfortunately, probably only about 1 in 500 would talk about Reading Is Fundamental. Instead, the other 49,900 teachers (oops, I guess it IS easy to make that math blunder!) would talk about the Reduction In Force that has been looming over the district's head for the past 3 weeks.


After a school board meeting tonight, the RIF is being put into place. Starting next week, somewhere between 500 and 700 teachers are due to be let go from their positions.


I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about my job. But I can honestly say I'm not stressing about being laid off. I've been laid off before, and it wasn't the end of the world. Besides, I've got other things to stress me about my job, like my kids not being able to read or subtract. Also, I know that if I lose my job here, I can always go work in Las Vegas. VEGAS, BABY!!


In case I DO lose my job, I should probably ask everyone to help support me by buying several copies of Learn Me Good and plenty of T-shirts from my store. I am also willing to dress as various superheroes for children's birthday parties...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Holes in your ears?

One of my kids asked me the other day, "When girl babies are born, are their ears already pierced?"

I answered, "Yes, and on some of them, the belly button is pierced too."

Just kidding, I didn't say that, but I found it a very interesting question. One of my little boys has his ears pierced, and since it's against school rules for boys to wear earrings, he wears little toothpick-looking sticks in the holes every day. Too bad he wasn't born with his ears already pierced...


This week's Mr. Teacher column on education.com is titled "A Day Made Better." A while back, I was contacted by someone who works with the program started by OfficeMax and Adopt-A-Classroom. It's worth a look.

This week's Carnival of Education is up and running over at Lifelong Learners. It's worth a look, too!

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