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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pork, the other white flu

Well, I had hoped not to have to comment on it much, but it would seem that discussion of the swine flu is unavoidable. Especially since it's pretty much sitting on my porch step.

It was one thing when it was a kid down in San Antonio. But then a kid in Richardson, the neighboring school district, caught it, causing that school to shut down for a week. Then last night, the Fort Worth School District decided that they were going to shut down ALL of their schools until May 11!


Today, Dallas closed down a school where a kid had swine flu. Oh, and the girl who was giving the TAKS test in the room right next to me all day long has been complaining of sore throat and body aches.

So it's probably just a matter of WHEN and not IF my district will close schools for however long. Especially since the world seems so out of control over it. I mean, really Egypt and Japan? Killing all of the pigs in your country?? REALLY???

Isn't that a bit extreme? And how effective is that really, since the flu is transmitted from person to person, and not from hog to dude.

Should we slaughter all of the chickens in an attempt to prevent the chicken pox??

Well, I suppose it's a good thing the dress code doesn't say anything about surgical masks, because we may very well see some of those on Monday.

Assuming of course that school is even in session on Monday...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

9 things I won't be wearing on Monday

This week's Carnival of Education is up and running over at Jason's Perspective, where he has graciously included my post TAKS Awareness along with the other midway rides. Apparently, I am a clown. What, do I make you laugh? Am I here for your AMUSEMENT? I am? OK, good. Go check it out, and um, watch out for Code Browns...

We received wonderful news at our school today... Summer Dress Code goes into effect beginning on Monday!!! Finally!! As the temperatures start to rise, and the air conditioning is about as consistent as a drunken babysitter, I won't be forced to wear a noose around my neck!!

We were given a memo today that covered "Acceptable and Unacceptable Attire," so it seemed fitting that I should put together a little list of what I will NOT (and CAN not) wear on Monday.

9) Tie and long-sleeve shirt
The memo clearly stated, "Anything you might wear... to clean around the house, leave at home." It just so happens, I clean in a 3-piece suit.

8) Godzilla slippers
I had a pair of these in high school. Big, green, fluffy slippers, and one of them had a button on the bottom connected to a speaker so that when you put your foot down, it made the sound of a Japanese high rise being smashed. If you stomped your foot, you heard the sound of a mutant roaring.

7) Daisy Dukes
Only because the memo says shorts are not acceptable.

6) A simple white tank top
Every day, when driving home, I pass a sign that says, "This way to the Gun Show." Alas, I will not be able to make a similar invitation to my co-workers by showcasing my own "cannons."

5) Sweat pants
This is really a shame, because I would just want to wear ordinary gray or blue sweat pants. In my humble opinion, they should prohibit me from wearing sweatpants that say "Juicy" across the butt cheeks, but not ordinary gray or blue sweat pants.

4) Spandex
I'm ok with this, because frankly, I like to CHANGE out of my work clothes when I get home. Since I already wear Spandex at night to fight crime (and to rock out with super-crazy dance moves), I don't need to wear it at school.

3) Bib overalls
Well darn, without the bib overalls, the single hay seed sticking out between my front teeth is going to look REALLY out of place, now isn't it? Actually, I would really like to know who showed up to work in bib overalls one day, causing this clause to be officially written into the dress code memo.

2) Dresses revealing a bare midriff
Actually, the way this one is worded -- "Dresses or attire revealing a bare midriff should not be worn to the office" -- makes me think maybe I COULD wear this, provided I stayed in my classroom and didn't approach the office.

1) Thongs
The memo says flip-flops are not acceptable. What did YOU think I was talking about???

It must be pointed out that the memo says absolutely nothing about suspenders, bloomers, rainbow wigs, or Brett Michaels bandanas. This last month is gonna be FUN!!!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

And now we wait

My kids took the TAKS math test today, and by law, I am not allowed to know how they did. Couldn't be in the room with them, couldn't talk to them during the day, couldn't look at any of the problems on the test.

So really all I can do is drink heavily and pray.

Instead of being with my kids, I was a substitute teacher in 5th grade all day long. Wow, I don't miss subbing.

Tomorrow, I am back with my kids, while reading retests go on in every room surrounding me, so I will keep one group for the entire day. Oh, with the door closed, and quietly. My kids will get very acquainted with my good friend, Bill Nye the Science Guy...

Monday, April 27, 2009

I need galoshes

For anyone outside of the greater Dallas area this morning, we received roughly 3 feet of rain between 7:15 and 7:45. This was the time that Anonymous Joe and I were out doing our morning crosswalk duty. We both had rain slickers on, but they didn't do much other than get wet, then soaked, then permeable.

I didn't take an umbrella outside because there was also a whole lot of thunder and lightning, and I didn't want to be holding my giant electricity rod up as a target. As a side note, I walked out with Ed U Cater at the end of the day, and he suggested that perhaps electrocution would have been a better alternative to the school day. I'm thinking Ed didn't have a very good day...

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I entered the school building looking and feeling as though I had jumped into a swimming pool. Pants, shirt sleeves, and hair dry quickly enough, but what was really bad was that my shoes and socks were drenched. My feet were not making pleasant sounds on the way down to my classroom.

As soon as I had the kids started on an exercise, I took off my shoes and socks and very hopefully placed them on my A/C vent. Where was all that oppressive heat from 2 months ago now that I actually needed it?? Alas, it was just cold air coming out, and that unfortunately doesn't dry things nearly as well.

So I walked around my room barefooted for the first hour. Then it occurred to me that kids go to the clinic for new socks and pants all the time! So I sent a student down to ask if they had any socks that I could have. Sure enough, they did! Nice, warm, dry socks.

Nothing much I could do about my shoes, so I put them back on. They were still wet, but at least with dry socks, I didn't feel like my toes were going to rot off.

Oh, and did I mention that I stopped a baby possum from entering the school this morning? When it was quickly apparent that I would get soaked outside, I ran back in to put my phone in the office. When I went back out through the main doors, something was scurrying towards me, and it wasn't a student!

I thought it was a mouse at first, but it had that weird, white triangular head and grey body, and it was running right at the door. I bravely wielded my STOP sign to hold it off. And I don't mean that I held it up and commanded it to stop. I whacked the darn thing once and then knocked it several feet away. It ran down into the flower bed and disappeared from sight. No idea what happened to it afterwards.

Today was the last review day before TAKS. We didn't do a whole lot other than go over homework, practice Volume one more time, and take it easy. I figure, if they don't know everything by now, they're not going to learn it today.

At the end of each class session, I told the kids that I was rooting for them and wanted them to do their very best, and that I would give them a high five like I normally do, or a hug, if they wanted one. As I said the word "hug," it was funny to watch some of their eyes grow huge.

In my morning class, the one that usually "gets it" more, it was probably a 70/30 split, with the majority going for high fives. In my afternoon (lower) class, it was 100% hugs.

Hopefully, I imparted some wisdom through osmosis. We'll find out tomorrow.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Seeking input

If you have been a regular reader Learn Me Good, I would really appreciate your input on the state of my blog. I have changed a few things around over the weekend, moving this here and that there, and I feel it's a bit more streamlined and less clunky.

Please take just a moment to either leave a comment here or send me an email and let me know what you think.

If you are new to reading, please let me know what your initial impression of this blog is!



TAKS Awareness

One of the tips in Darren's 31 Days to a Better Blog over at Problogger is to create a "Sneeze page," so named because it serves to hold a Kleenex up to your best posts. No wait, it's actually called sneeze because it sends readers throughout the archives of your blog.

Since I am an elementary school teacher in Texas, I thought I'd create a sneeze page that listed all of my posts related to our dreaded standardized test, the TAKS.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my best posts related to our friend, the TAKS man...

The Top 10 Rejected Meanings of TAKS -- This was a guest post over at So You Want To Teach. It's a list of phrases that TAKS ALMOST stood for. I left my favorite for number 1 -- This Assessment Kinda Sucks.

A Massive Coverup -- One of the ridiculous hoops we have to jump through every year before the test is covering everything on our walls and in the hallway. I wrote a letter (and of course never really sent it), telling the district that I couldn't possibly comply due to certain complications. Read it, I think you'll enjoy it.

What are We Really Testing Here? -- A TAKS test is a reading test, plain and simple. Sure, some of them have a math bent or a science bent, but first and foremost, they are a reading assessment. Is that fair??

Practice Like You Play -- You wouldn't bang the keys with your elbows at a piano recital after practicing the right way for so long, so why wouldn't you do the strategies on the TAKS that we've practiced in class for so long? This is my never-ending question to my kids year after year. Also a source of much frustration.

The Million Dollar Test -- This is a short story I wrote about a group of kids who are offered a Decent Proposal. An eccentric billionaire offers 1 million dollars (cue evil laugh) to anyone who can achieve a perfect score on the TAKS. It went over pretty well when I read it to my kids in class.

Testivus -- taken from the classic Seinfeld episode Festivus, of which the "Airing of Grievances" was an integral part, this post is a major rant against the current state of our testing. But there are also some suggestions presented, lest anyone think I'm merely whining.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What are we really testing here?

I don't know how upper grade teachers can stand it.

TAKS is stressful enough to prepare for at the 3rd grade level, and our kids at least can get reading assistance on the math test! There has been a little bit of debate over exactly what that means, but at least it is specified that, on an individual basis, a student may ask to have a word or a question read aloud. This helps immensely, especially with a child who is a struggling reader and/or an English Language Learner.

However, after 3rd grade, the kids are completely on their own for every TAKS test -- excepting those kids with special modifications, of course. The vast majority of kids taking these tests every year cannot ask to have a word read, cannot ask for clarification on a question, cannot ask ANYTHING except a question about the directions, and the directions are usually "Pick the best answer."

So what it comes down to is that these kids are taking a series of reading tests. Some of them are ABOUT math or ABOUT science, but they don't strictly assess those subject areas as much as they assess whether or not the child can read the questions, some of which are highly complicated.

This is really a sore point for me, because I find it ludicrous. It is an outright farce to call the 5th grade science TAKS a science test but not give the kids reading assistance. Any tester at any level should be able to ask to have a word or a question read to them.

Are we trying to see if little Johnny truly knows what photosynthesis is , or are we trying to see if little Johnny recognizes this vocabulary word and then can describe it?

Imagine going to live in Russia for a year and taking a math class. After 3 months, you are given a math test in Russian, consisting of word problems and lengthy questions. I don't know about you, but I would fail that test miserably. Would ANYONE in their right mind think that that means I don't know math?? Or that that test accurately gauged my knowledge??

That's pretty much how it is for struggling readers or kids new to the language, but even for kids who read English fluently, there should still be reading assistance offered.

Only then will we TRULY have an assessment of a child's ability in math, science, or any OTHER skill than reading.

If I taught a grade higher than 3rd, I would be fuming every year about this very matter. Thankfully, I don't, so I can just vent instead of fume...

Jumping on the Bandwagon


Just wanted to say it.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oh Say, can you CEI?

Carol at Bellringers is hosting this week's Carnival of Education, the Loosey-Goosey Edition of the Carnival, and it looks like a REALLY good one, full of great posts. My post about unreasonableness is there, holding its own, compared to other posts by comparable bloggers using similar online resources.

If you thought THAT was strangely worded, you should look into CEIs sometime.

For those of you sane people outside of the Dallas ISD, CEIs are Classroom Effectiveness Indices, and they are ostensibly used to measure a student's growth over the course of a school year.

However, they are currently being used for evil in several instances, and being used as the highest, if not sole, evaluation of some teachers.

Check out this article at the DMN blog today, and read some of the comments. It talks about the dreaded letter that many teachers have received or will receive, telling them that their CEIs show improvement in performance next school year, or your contract may be subject to non-were low last year, and that therefore, they are under close watch. "You will be expected to renewal at the end of the contract term."

Not unreasonably, many teachers are seeing this as a threat to their livelihood -- Shape up, or ship out!

Nevermind that this letter is being sent out NOW, with 6 weeks left in the current school year, despite the fact that last year's CEIs were published within the first 6 weeks of the year.

Nevermind that, according to the letter, THIS year's CEIs don't seem to matter.

Here's the really bothersome thing. Nobody can understand how these blasted things are computed! The guy who wrote the "formula" for calculating CEIs is long gone, probably laughing at the foolish people still using it, and nobody in the district can explain exactly how they are calculated. The only thing we hear is vague and generic.

"It's a measure of student growth, using data from previous years."

That's like someone asking about how nuclear reactors work and being told, "It involves energy, molecules, and the cosine."

For anyone who really wants a headache, follow this link to the explanation of how CEIs are computed. I consider myself a mathie, yet I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

Furthermore, it's pretty darn outrageous that we would be evaluated on this scale anyway. Student growth, predicted from one or two tests that they have taken, is the sole measure of how effective we are as teachers? Not to mention that the kids don't even take the same test in the 2nd and 3 grades! Let's just predict how many oranges Farmer Brown can grow this year, based on how many apples he grew last year!!

My understanding is that CEIs are only used in Dallas. Anybody outside of Dallas have anything similar to share?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Good luck with THAT one...

Here's one straight from the "They'll never do THAT again" files:

Our mailboxes were stuffed with individual student pictures today. Every child had the full package in an envelope -- an 8 X 10, 2 5 X 8s, a sheet of wallet size, etc.

Normally, the order forms are sent home in advance of picture day, and the kids (or, more accurately, parents) who want to order pictures send their money on the day the pictures will be taken. Usually, only 3 or 4 sets of pictures arrive in the ol' mailbox.

Nope, this year, EVERYONE got the pictures, along with a note which said something to the effect of "Please take a look at these pictures. If you want to keep them, please send back money. If you do not want to buy them, please send the pictures back."


I mean, it's great if the photography company just doesn't care about recouping their printing costs and is doing this pro bono, but if they really expect to get back all of the photos from the people who don't send money, I just might have a bridge to sell them.

Add to that the confusing order form inside the package. There are 5 "sheets" of photos, plus one sheet of "instructions." Four of the sheets are glossy photos of various size, and the last one is a bunch of punch-out pics for key fobs and mirror and such.

The order form, first of all, is entirely in English. Since more than 50% of our school is hispanic, this already doesn't bode well.

Secondly, the order form says that all 5 sheets usually cost $60, but now they are available for only $45. Great, what a bargain! The sheet then goes on to say that any ONE sheet is $12, and TWO sheets are $24, etc, etc, counting by 12s. Any unbought sheets should be returned.

I am VERY curious to see if anybody actually puts a check in the "ANY 4 SHEETS" box. This would mean paying $48 and having to return one sheet, when all 5 could be kept for $45.

A few years ago, a PTA fundraiser was to have the kids sell coupon books. Every child was given a book to use as an example and to return if unbought. I don't think they got back a tenth of the books in that fiasco.

So again, to the photography company, good luck with that one. Just don't expect ME to be the one nagging kids to bring back their pictures...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

the ol' homework excuse

Today I'm rerunning an old column from my stint, this time about unusual homework excuses. Seems to be appropo, since we are coming right up on the state math test and we will be giving plenty of homework next week.

This column, titled Homework, Shmomework originally ran on December 18, 2007 at

Did anyone ever really try to use the excuse, "My dog ate my homework?" I never heard anyone use it when I was in school, and I certainly never had a kid try it on me.

At any rate, dogs have better things to eat nowadays, and kids have more imaginative excuses too. Here are the Top 5 I've encountered during my tenure.

1) "My mom/dad/primary caregiver didn't understand how to do it."

Um, that's why your mom/dad/primary caregiver is not getting anything written down in my grade book. I think it's fantastic for parents to show interest in what their child is bringing home and even to offer help if needed. I wish more parents at my school would show such an interest! But the homework is always something similar to what we've practiced in class. The kids never say, "I didn't understand how to do it." They'd much rather blame a family member. Which brings us to number two...

2) "I couldn't do it because my little brother drew on it."

When I hear this excuse, which is thankfully not very often, I always ask to see the homework in question. Usually, there are a few thin pencil lines drawn across the page. Sure, that sort of thing would ruin a Picasso original, but it hardly renders a math worksheet undoable. It's the equivalent of telling someone your car has been totaled when you spill coffee on the passenger seat.

3) "At the Day Care, they don't give us much time to do our homework; we have to go out and play!"

Sometimes those evil Day Care staffers really annoy me. I mean, the nerve! All these kids want to do is finish their homework assignment in a thorough and timely fashion, and these despicable adults are forcing them to play! I can't help but imagine a scene in which an Oliver Twist-like urchin meekly asks, "Please, sir, can I have some more time?"

4) "Since the homework isn't for a grade, I didn't do it."

Huh?? This is a new one, and has only been used once, and bizarrely, that one time was in front of the girl's mother! I have no idea how she got the notion that she wasn't getting graded on the homework. Especially since she heard me say, "OK, then, that's a zero for you," every time she didn't do an assignment. Maybe that wasn't clear enough, and she thought I was stockpiling Coke Zero for her in the classroom fridge.

5) "It's not in my backpack!"

This little gem is the one I hear the most. The kids make this exclamation in a tone that suggests that they most definitely would have completed the assignment if only it hadn't magically disappeared. I would love to be able to use this one in my life:

"Sir, that will be twenty dollars, please."

"It's not in my wallet!!"

I imagine that teachers will be giving homework and students will be making excuses until the end of time. I'm just looking forward to hearing something truly convincing. Like maybe, "My mom/dad/primary caregiver ate my homework."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grade / No Grade

Earlier this week, on my post about Practice the Way You Play, there was a very astute comment by Mary H. She asked, "How much credit do you give for right answer and how much credit do you give for showing work?"

I briefly responded to this question in the comments, but I wanted to expound on that as well as get other people's take on the issue.

Personally, I think that showing work -- computations, notes, labels, etc -- especially on math problems, is a vital skill that kids need to learn AND utilize. To me, it is absolutely no good if a child turns in a test or a homework with all of the correct answers, but no work shown. I'm not convinced (especially on a homework) that that child knows how to do the problems and didn't just copy off of someone, guess luckily, or get someone else to do it for them.

I'm not someone who tells kids, "I don't care if that's the way your mom taught you to do it, you have to do it MY way or else!" I certainly prefer that kids do the work the way I've taught them, and the way we've practiced in class, but if they come in and say they learned some other way, I'm ok with that -- as long as that work is clearly shown! Only then can I see that they followed the correct procedure and mastered the concept.

I often employ the strategy of "camoflauged grades" on tests. In other words, I sometimes put one grade in my gradebook and different grade on a test. If I am trying to emphasize the importance of doing a particular set of steps, then (with ample advance warning) I will take a few points off here and there on a child's test for not showing those steps. Their grade visible on the test will reflect those deductions. However, I usually give them credit for correct answers (work or no work) in my grade book. During a test, I KNOW that they're not getting the answers from someone else -- I keep a close eye on the kids during a test -- so I want their grade to accurately reflect their answers.

I can recall times when a student has scored a 100 in my gradebook (all answers correct), but had a 65 written on their test!

What do you think of this? As I ask the kids, agree or disagree? How do YOU try to emphasize the importance of showing work?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday Words

Hey everyone, be sure to check out this week's Carnival of Education, being hosted at Joanne Jacobs' site. There are lots of great posts there, including my recent one about practicing the way you play.

For anyone who's curious, the answer to yesterday's missing info question is C. In order to know how many sweaters are blue, you have to know how many are NOT blue. Some adults (and many kids) think you need to know how many sweaters are white, answer B, but you have to realize that there are many other colors that the sweaters could be.

So there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The lesson/task/tip of Day # 7 in the Problogger 31 Day Challenge (yes, we're on Day #9, but I'm a little behind) was to give a little "link love" to another blogger. In other words, to link to and comment on a post from another site.

Last night, as I was looking through the sites that I frequently read, I came upon Mrs. H's post about her countdown to the TAKS test. Mrs. H is a Texas high school teacher, so she is counting down to a slightly more advanced version of the TAKS than the one my 3rd graders will be taking, but our goal is the same -- to kick the CRAP out of the TAKS. Er, I mean, to get all of our kids to score high.

Mrs. H says that one of her goals is getting her kids to recognize the difference between reasonable and unreasonable answers. I can so totally relate. What SHOULD be a simple thought process -- Hmmm, if I have 4 friends, and I want to share a bag of 20 peppermints with them, each friend is NOT going to get 80 peppermints!! -- is often anything but simple.

I tend to use the words "Does your answer make sense" more than "is it reasonable," mainly because there is a classification of 3rd grade math questions called "reasonableness." We started our lessons on Reasonableness questions today, with varying results.

If I might brag about my own education just a bit, I was an excellent math student in high school, I took graduate level math classes as a senior in college, I then took graduate level math classes as a graduate student, and then I used some pretty advanced math in my job as a thermoelectric design engineer for almost four years. However, I NEVER came across this type of "reasonableness" questions until I started teaching 3rd grade.

Here is an example of a Reasonableness question:

Mrs. Nestor bought 6 games for her son. The least expensive game cost $10, and the most expensive game cost $30. What is a reasonable total amount that she spent on the games?

My question is, who on earth doesn't track the exact total that they spent at the store?? Why do you need a "REASONABLE" total, when you can just add up the exact amounts, or round them to the nearest dollar and add??

The strategy of solving a problem like this involves finding a number in the middle of the range (10-30 dollars) and using that for each game. Furthing confounding things is the fact that the answer choices are always either ranges themselves ("between $100 and $150") or single numbers that are usually close to, but not exactly what the kids compute. So after all these months of telling the kids that, when taking a math test, if their answer doesn't match any of the answer choices, NOT to just pick the closest one, but rather to go back and find their mistake -- now we get to tell them, Oh yeah! If you see this word "Reasonable," THEN it's ok to pick the closest answer...

(For those of you wondering if the kids can just multiply 6 times $10 and 6 times $30 to find the range of answers, I just want to say. . . THAT WOULD BE FAR TOO EASY!!! Often times, using the extreme ends of the range yield an answer considered incorrect.)

I will say though, that after the first day of doing a brand new type of problem like this, the kids did pretty well with it. They certainly have the skill of finding a central number down, and hopefully this skill won't go out of their brains in two weeks. Like telling time seems to have done.

We also looked at a type of problem today we call "Missing info."

Try this example. Answer to follow tomorrow.

Mister Teacher has 15 sweaters and 22 shirts in his closet. What other information is needed to find the number of sweaters that are blue?

A) The total number of shirts and sweaters
B ) How many sweaters are white
C) How many sweaters are not blue
D) How many shirts are blue

Monday, April 13, 2009

Practice like you play

Am I showing my age by titling my post with that old adage, "Practice like you play?" I mean, do kids nowadays just not GET that, or do they not HEAR it very often except from old fogies like me?

I probably don't use those actual words too often in class. After all, the kids tend to hear the word "play" and think "run around outside like chickens with their heads cut off" as opposed to "taking the TAKS test." However, I emphasize the meaning of the words all the time.

For as much good as it seems to do...

I find it very frustrating when we've spent an entire week of our lives going over the steps for labelling a picture representation of a fraction ( ?/total ), practicing it in class, honing the skill, doing it on homework and classwork, and then when we take a test and there is a fraction question, the kids just pick an answer without drawing a picture, without labelling an existing picture, oftentimes without even circling (and thereby acknowledging recognition of) the word "fraction!!"

I have tried pleading with them.

Me: Please, if you want to do your best, you need to do it the way we've been practicing, NOT by closing your eyes and doing eeny-meeny-miney-moe!

I have tried scolding them.

Me: If you're not going to do the steps and strategies that we've learned and practiced in class, what was the point of last week??

I've tried giving them analogies. (without burdening their brains with the actual word "analogies)

2 of my favorites are as follows:

The Baseball Coach --
Imagine if I was your baseball coach, and you were on my team. I've spent all this time teaching you the right way to hold the bat, the right way to stand at the plate, the right way to swing and hit the ball so that you get a homerun every time. All of that practice, and you know exactly what you need to do to get a homerun.

But then when we have our first game, you decide to stand with your back to the plate, holding the bat by the wrong end, swinging it like a golf club (I of course pantomime all of this).

You MIGHT get lucky and hit the ball. Probably not, but you might. But you certainly aren't going to do your best and hit a homerun that way.

The Piano Teacher --
Imagine if you were taking piano lessons from me. Every day, we've practiced how to play a song, where you put your fingers on the keys, how fast you need to play, how to move your hands. After practicing so much, you know exactly what you need to do to play the song beautifully.

Then, on the day, of a big recital in front of your family and a big crowd, you decided to sit down at the piano and start pounding the keys with your elbows (again, pantomimed, with cacaphonous sound effects).

Why would you do that on the day when it counts, after practicing the RIGHT way for so very long??

Every time I tell these stories, the kids laugh and tell me, "No, Mister Teacher, that would be silly! Why would anyone do that??"

Yet, getting these kids to show their work on a test (or even homework sometimes) -- work that we have practiced for days, weeks, or months -- is like pulling the back teeth of a narwhale!

I feel like this is where so much of the frustration of teachers comes into play. The teaching is great, the imparting of wisdom is great. I enjoy showing the kids how to figure out a certain type of problem, and what strategies can make it even easier.

I just don't get why it is so incredibly difficult to get them to actually do these simplifying steps on their own!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Silent but Deadly

Not that this has ANYTHING to do with education...

I was reading the Dallas Morning News the other day when one story just jumped out at me. Please go and read it for yourself so you can catch a whiff of the story.

In such a short story, there were more than a few red flags. First of all, why are FIVE men sharing ONE motel room? Second, what the heck were they eating that gave the one guy such blazing saddles? Third, guys LOVE farts! We pull our shirts up over our noses, we laugh while our eyes water, we try to fart louder and harder than the first guy -- so what nitwit ruins all that by throwing a knife at the farter???

Dude, it's "who cut the cheese?" not "who cut Juan Antonio?"

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Came up with a new entry for the New Revised Teacher's Dictionary. Today was a LAT day. Now maybe that doesn't mean much for people outside of my district, but inside our little circle, LAT usually stands for Linguistically Accommodated Testing. These are the tests that our newcomer kids take in leiu of the TAKS test.

However, today was LAT day in the sense that it was Long Ass Thursday.

I walked into my room this morning and checked my mini-thermometer (hey, we were studying temperature measurement last week) -- 80 degrees. That just ain't right.

The temp didn't improve much throughout the day, even with the "air conditioning" blowing -- really just moving room temp air around -- and several windows open.

When I picked my kids up from specials class in the afternoon, several of them were in tears because there had been a fight outside, and one of them was even getting suspended! I totally expect one class of 3rd graders to be fighting, because they are just a bunch of idiots and don't care. But I would never have guessed that this suspended girl would have gotten involved, and she claims she WASN'T. Of course, not having been witness, I had no idea what had actually happened, so I wasn't able to say one way or the other.

This being (Long Ass) Thursday, we had after school tutoring, so that was a fun hour.

Afterwards, as I walked out of the school to the parking lot, I noticed that the air seemed really thick and smokey. Turns out there are wild fires raging through North Texas! The air was full of ash and very dense. Guess I won't have to worry about fights outside at recess tomorrow, since I don't think there will BE an outside recess tomorrow.

To top it all off, I came home to find that my DVR had died, taking all of my stored programming with it. Guess I'll have to check out this after all...

Posts of the Week

So Joel of So You Want to Teach got me hooked into Darren of Problogger's 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (aka: Who Wants to Be a Bloggy Idol?). Day 2, which I'm only slightly behind on, had a challenge to write a link post. My man Joel is of course the guru of link posts, but I figured I needed to make an attempt if I was going to keep up.

Having said that, here are some fantastic posts, coming directly from several blogs that I enjoy frequenting.

Carnival of Education: The Day to End All Days -- I had to start the list here, because this week, Joel has put together an amazing Carnival. Chock full of relevant links, as always, this one has the distinction of being tied together by a really fun story, of which I am proud to say that I am a major character! According to sources, my character actually died heroically at the end of the original draft, but it didn't score well with test audiences, so I got to live instead.

What's the Word Wednesday: "Something" Happens -- Probably not what you would expect the "Something" to be, but still something that I probably shouldn't post on my blog. This post from the Scholastic Scribe talks about the dangers of a careless (or non-existant) spell check.

Why Bill Nye the Science Guy and I Will Never be Friends -- Mimi at It's Not All Flowers and Sausages (one of my new faves since April 1st) posts hilariously about her lack of a green thumb in the classroom. I can totally relate.

The Cornerstone Accolades for March -- Angela Powell, author of The Cornerstone for Teachers, has put together her own Carnival-esque links post of great posts around the web for the month of March. Is me linking to her links like looking into an endless line of reflections in a Funhouse mirror??

Poverty Stresses Kids' Brains -- In this post by Joanne Jacobs, she notes a recent Washington Post article that says that living in poverty actually affects children's memories. I work at a Title I school, and a lot of my kids can't seem to remember basic math facts, so I would tend to agree with this research.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One Blogging Moment

Alack and alas, March Madness is officially over. The Tournament has ended, with the dreaded North Carolina making it a lopsided, and incredibly boring, victory. However, this was good news for Joel of So You Want to Teach, who correctly picked UNC as the winner. His "Mariachi Madness" entry in the ESPN pool has won him the History Channel DVD set! Joel, I'll send that spinning your way sometime in the next few weeks.

Even more exciting than that, CBS must have read my letter and listened, because the One Shining Moment video was great! It was by far the best one I've seen in over a decade, marred only slightly by the croaking of Clark "Frosted" Kellogg at the end. Thank you, CBS!!

Today was the 5th grade math TAKS test, and it was an INCREDIBLY long day for someone who had to monitor the exam. Like me.

I'm going to watch One Shining Moment one more time, then I'm going to bed.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The New Revised Teacher's Dictionary

Over the past year or so, I've either heard or thought of a few terms that relate to my job as a teacher that don't necessarily apply to people outside of the education field. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to start to jot these words and their definitions down into the beginings of a Webster's-esque tome.

It's not much, but I now present the few words that form the opening salvo of this Teacher's Dictionary. Feel free to add to it any terms that you have heard or thought of yourself!

"Choir practice" -- Code name for after-hours meetings held by some teachers, typically on Fridays, in an establishment where discussions are held, friendships are strengthened, and alcoholic beverages may or may not be consumed. See also TEAM BUILDING, GROUP MENTORING, and GARDENING WITH GRANDMA.

"DJing" -- The very annoying practice of some administrators, when using the school's Public Address system, of droning on and on, as many morning DJs do on the radio. What should be a 30 second announcement turns into a 6 minute beat-down as the speaker feels the need to comment extensively on the short announcement.

"gradecation" -- Taking a day off merely for the purpose of catching up on grading papers. Gradecations are typically NOT fun.

"maximum kiddage" -- The largest amount of students that can fit in a certain area. When planning for pull-out math tutoring, I tried to give each small group maximum kiddage so as to get the most children covered.

"milk carton photo" -- A student who is consistently absent or missing from class. Similar to the "Have you seen me?" photos on the side of a milk carton, but with less calcium enrichment.

"repeat customer" -- A student who has been retained for another year. Some kids just like 3rd grade so much they want another shot at it.

A small beginning, I know. But perhaps in time, this will grow to be worthy of its own internet page. Let the submissions begin!!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

15 Places to Find Teacher Inspiration and Humor Online

This is a Guest Post from Karen Schweitzer, a writer for  who has submitted well-receieved posts to other FoLMeG sites So You Want To Teach and I Want to Teach Forever.

Karen decided that my site would be most appropriate for a list of humorous links, and I have to say I appreciate the sentiment! So here they are, 15 for people looking for teaching-related humor (0ther than here, of course):

15 Places to Find Teacher Inspiration and Humor Online

An inspirational story or a good joke can sometimes ease the stress that goes hand in hand with being a professional educator. If you're ever looking for free inspiration and humor online, the following sites are worth visiting:

Tales from a Teacher's Heart - This site offers an inspirational blog and a series of movies that tell heartwarming stories about students and teachers.

Creative Teaching - Creative Teaching provides an interesting blend of teaching ideas and teacher humor. The site also offers a collection of teacher wallpapers. - This site is dedicated to inspiring and empowering teachers of all levels. The site offers inspirational stories and humor in addition to tools that teachers can use in the classroom.

TeachersCount - Although TeachersCount is best known for its campaign to raise the status of the teaching community, this nonprofit organization also provides a wide range of inspirational resources to educators through its website.

Lesson Plans Page - Hot Chalk's Lesson Plans Page offers a large collection of inspirational teacher stories that have been donated by site visitors.

TeachersFirst - This teacher-created site has an entire section devoted to humor. All of the jokes and stories were written by educators for educators.

Crazy 4 Teachers - Crazy 4 Teachers offers an eclectic collection of humor, sarcasm, and cartoons for teachers.

Quotes 4 Teachers - This Educator's Network website provides more than 70 popular education-related quotations for teachers. Most are meant to be inspirational, but a few humorous quotes have been included as well.

TeacherTube - TeacherTube is an excellent place to find inspirational videos for teachers. You can find these videos by browsing the site or by typing "inspiration" into the TeacherTube search engine.

WINGS - This University of Texas at Austin website offers a well-organized directory of articles and other resources that offer teach humor and inspiration.

Why We Teach - The Why We Teach website provides excerpts from the Why We Teach book as well as stories submitted by other teachers. The site also offers a place to submit your own story to be considered for publication.

Scholastic - The Scholastic site is a great place to find inspiration for lesson plans and activities. Scholastic suggests a new activity each day and provides a slew of other resources for the classroom.

PBS Teachers Connect - PBS Teachers Connect is an online community for teachers who want to connect with one another and discuss the use of digital media in teaching and learning.

Teacher Lingo - This teacher blog community was set up to create a place for teachers to connect, share ideas, and learn from one another. You can start your own blog or chat with other teachers on the site's message boards.

Box Office Mojo - This movie information site has a great list of 20 inspirational movies for teachers.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Should I be worried?

Today's after-school tutoring went a bit more smoothly than last week's (AND, I managed to clean the blood spot off my wall from where I had banged my head!), though there are still a few things that make my spine tingle...

We have less than 4 weeks left until the TAKS math test. Is it wrong for me to be concerned that some of my kids add 2 dimes, 3 nickels, and 4 pennies by adding 2+3+4???

Or that when solving an Area problem, one girl counted the number 1 twice? ie, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8?

Or even that one little boy didn't notice the large pictograph key, and merely counted pictures by 1''s?

April Fool's!!

If you read the post here at Learn Me Good yesterday, you may have been scratching your head, wondering WTF?? Especially when you got to the part about "my tiny toddler daughter" or "my husband's grandparents."

Well, would it help if I jumped out and cried, "APRIL FOOLS!!!!"

A group of us got together and decided that we would switch blogs for the day and see if anyone noticed. Looking around at some of the other blogs involved, it doesn't look like many people did notice. :)

Mamacita from Scheiss Weekly was my honored guest here at Learn Me Good, providing the post about her daughter's (not to mention her own) potty mouth. If you'd like to catch MY post from yesterday, head over to Mrs. Bluebird's Classroom to see my musings on measurement lessons.

There weren't really that many comments on the various posts, but the comments that WERE posted merely reflected the blog post and made no mention of, "Hey, something's up! This doesn't sound like you!"

At any rate, noticed or not, ballyhooed or critically disdained, we had fun. If you want to go back and check out the April Fool's Day posts after the fact with this knowledge in hand (ala re-watching The Sixth Sense after learning the big twist ending), here is a list of participants:

100 Farmers

Bluebird's Classroom


History is Elementary


It's Not All Flowers and Sausages

I Want to Teach Forever

Learn Me Good

Ms Teacher

Scheiss Weekly

The Scholastic Scribe

So You Want to Teach?

Tales of a School Bus Driver

So I'd love to hear feedback from readers and participants alike! Did you notice at all? Did something merely SEEM funny without really triggering a specific thought -- like when Jeopardy comes on at 7pm instead of 11am?? Is it worth doing again next year?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Set a Watch, Oh Lord, Before My Mouth

When I was young, I had a bad, bad habit. It really was a bad habit, and I’m honestly ashamed of it. I picked up this habit in college, for my parents certainly never allowed such goings-on in their home.

Anyway, this habit, as habits have a way of doing, had become such a, well, HABIT, that I didn’t even notice it any more.

I had potty mouth, and I had it bad. I had a witty, foul mouth. I could string together "those words" and people would almost clap. Some of my rants and terms of exasperation were works of art. I was an English major.

Now, young parents with potty mouth must remember something here. Tiny children learn to speak by imitating the language they hear. Any kindergarten teacher could have told us this, but this was an elementary bit of science that hadn’t occurred to me, because whenever I spoke to my toddler and my newborn, I used VERY appropriate and pretty mommy/baby/cutesy language. Oh, you all know it. That schmoopy pidgin we talk to babies with.

Ah, but it’s always the footprints you DON’T want them to follow, that they pick up on the fastest.

My tiny toddler daughter had a touch of the potty mouth at a most inappropriately young age, thanks to Mommy who thought she was doing a good job of hiding her own. I even thought it was kind of funny. Looking back, I’m just appalled at my lack of judgment.

As we drove down to the family reunion, I reminded my little girl to be sure not to say, um, certain words there. She agreed. I think she even understood. That bothers me now, too.

Sometimes it takes a humiliation to open your eyes and make you shut your mouth.

With this background in place, I will now tell this story that some of you have already heard, again.

My husband's grandparents were awesome, lovely people; they were so good to us when we were first married, in many, many ways. They were also VERY conservative Pentecostal holy-rollers. Key words here: very conservative.

Dowdy clothes, bun-hair, dark hose, tongues, oil. . . .you get the picture. And no, I’m NOT making fun of them. I loved them dearly and deeply. I am merely DESCRIBING them. That is what they were. I loved them. But I digress.

The precious and wonderful grandparents were hosting a family reunion in their huge white Victorian house. The welcome mat was out, and they were standing in the door almost weeping with joy as each carload of relatives pulled up and were greeted. It was very Norman Rockwellian.

Ramble, ramble. . . . .

At dinner, everybody was crowded around their huge table, chowing down on food so good, the gods would have traded their nectar for just one bite. My newborn son was sawing logs on Grandma’s big bed, and my tiny daughter was dining with the rest of us, sitting in a red wooden high chair that had been in the family for generations.

At this particular time she was going through a dining phase that can best be described as the “banana chip and shaved ice” phase. She was thin as a rail, and simply wouldn’t touch most foods at ALL. The grandmothers and uncles and aunts were all worried to death about her, even though she was bright-eyed and energetic and obviously loving the complete control that any kid with food issues has over the adults in her life.

At this meal, she was pressured from all sides to eat this, or that, PLEASE? Just a taste, for Mamaw, for Grandma, for Grandad, for Aunt, Uncle. . . .Skin and bones, SKIN AND BONES, she must EAT. EAT EAT EAT EAT EAT.

Finally, she’d had enough. Catching my eye across the table, she knew better than to disobey the orders about potty mouth she’d been given before we got there, but she’d had enough of the constant nagging about food.

So my princess, my precious baby girl, freshly two years old but talking in complete sentences from the womb, master of innocent satire, stood up in the high chair, put both tiny hands on her tiny hips, swept the room and the people with an exasperated glance, and said, “Oh Mommy, I wish I could say SHIT.”

And I wished I could say ‘abracadabra’ and just vanish. I was torn between falling out of my chair laughing, and falling out of my chair to disappear forever underneath that massive table.
Nobody laughed. I’m sure they wanted to, but the shock and the environment hushed it all up.

For many, many years, I cleaned up my verbal act enough that she had no more of “those” words to mimic. Most of me is ashamed, but part of the shame is in the fact that there is a teeny-tiny part of me that still thinks it was funny.

I’m also ashamed to confess that some of that potty-mouth is back again.

But I’m nice, really I am. I’m @#$%^&*())(*&^ nice.