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Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Jack Bauer Week

This week was like an extended episode of 24. One of the longest. Weeks. Of. My. Life.

First of all, Monday through Thursday, we had no planning period. No duty-free lunch. No official breaks at all. Monday, the reading specialist very nicely relieved me for 10 minutes, allowing me to use the restroom and check my email, but that was the only time I had away from the kids. Thankfully, Monday was a pretty good day with the kids. It was the day before TAKS, so I had the kids working in small groups on review materials while I conferenced with students individually.

Tuesday and Wednesday, while 5th grade teachers monitored my testing students, I was in the 5th grade hallway, "helping" with review for the Science TAKS. I put helping in quotes, because I doubt that I helped very much. There are some very disruptive 5th graders who had no interest whatsoever in actually preparing for their test, and who wanted nothing more than to subvert the substitute teacher in the room. The sub who happened to be me. They wouldn't stay focused, they wouldn't obey directions, they wouldn't stay quiet.

With a couple of these kids, time out and a minute of talking to helped quell their rebellious streak a bit. One student I did have to send out of the room to the science teacher's room. Even then, it took her 2 minutes of clown walking to finally leave the room, entertaining all of the other students with her idiocracy.

On Tuesday, I received no break at all, and Wednesday I did get relieved a couple of times so I could take a restroom break. Thursday was then the TAKS day, where I had to monitor the kids taking the science test. While infinitely more boring than the prior two days, there wasn't the same discipline problem as before. Test-day-mentality, I guess.

After school on Thursday, while supervising the kids getting on the bus, one of the 5th graders told me that he thought he had done really well on the science test. He said, "I knew all of the answers, because, remember, you helped me yesterday!"

Maybe I did help a bit after all.

Still, never in my life was I happier to return to my classroom than I was on Friday, when I could once again spend the whole day with MY kids. We had a very relaxing day where I didn't task them with classwork at all. They read books, they played math games, they worked with review stations (disguised as games), and we went outside and threw the football around. It was a great day.

Many of them also told me how they thought they had done on the math test. They sounded very confident, telling me that some of the problems "tried to trick me" but that they had checked their answers carefully. Most said they had found and fixed mistakes while reviewing. They all felt they had passed. The teachers who had monitored them had also said that all of the kids really seemed to be taking their time, putting their best efforts into the test, and reviewing their work carefully. Those teachers are not allowed to check the kids' answers for correctness or even tell the kids to go back and show or check their work, but they said that nobody seemed distracted or seemed to be pretending to read while really just wasting time.

Based on all of this, I'm really optimistic about how my kids did. I can't wait to get those results back, but it'll probably take about 3 weeks.

Don't forget to enter the contest to win 500 free business cards! Open till May 7!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Farewell to TAKS

Ah, the final year of TAKS. Next year, we will have the new, the improved, the probably-not-that-different STAAR. (The extra A is for Anyone's Guess)

Tomorrow and Wednesday are the 3rd grade math and reading TAKS, respectively. Today, I tried to relax and encourage the kids and to instill in them the belief that they could all pass. My morning class was their usual zombie selves.

Me: "Are we going to pass tomorrow?"
One student mumbles, "Yes," while nobody else says a word. OK then, thanks for coming everyone, turn off the lights on your way out.

In both classes, I told the kids I would buy them all pizza IF everyone in the class scored an 80 or better on both tests. I told them I would buy them all pizza and ice cream if everyone in the class scored a 90 or better on both tests. I told them I would buy them all pizza and ice cream AND everyone would get two orange tickets (gold) if everyone in the class scored a 100.

To this, one girl replied, "Awww, I was hoping you'd get us all lasagna."

Thank you, Garfield.

Now I can just hope and pray that my kids take their time, use their brains, and do what we've practiced all year. Oh, and I can be thankful that I don't work in a state where tomorrow will count for 50% of my yearly evaluation.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Win some free business cards!

I received an email last week from a guy who works at, asking if I'd like to give away some free product. I figured, sure! Why not? Who doesn't love free product?

But then he pointed out that I would have to come up with some way to decide WHO to give the free product TO, and so I started thinking. And I came up with this -- a little contest where the top 3 winners will receive a totally free set of 500 business cards.

I used to think that since I didn't work in corporate any more, I didn't need business cards. But then I had some made up for my book, and I thought they were pretty nifty. So don't downplay the card. Even if you're between jobs, you could always have some printed to read, "YOUR NAME: MAJOR BADASS" if you so chose.

Anyway, on to the actual contest and, duh, winning!

We're going to have ourselves a little naming contest. I enjoy seeing names that are plays on words or parodies of celebrities. This is why so many of the sign-offs in Learn Me Good are like that.

A few that I used in my book:

Val Yumm
Gene Yuss
Darth Grader
Mike Rosoft
Sal Monilla
M. C. Hammurabi

In my Work in Progress, I'll be using these:

Willie Maykit
Ben Afflactose
Add 'em Ant

So here's how you can win those cards. Submit your funny names in the comment section of this post. In keeping with my total modesty, I shall henceforth refer to these funny names as LMG names.

I'm looking at a calendar now, and I am arbitrarily selecting May 7th as the end date for entries. So on or around May 7th, I will select the 5 or 6 LMG names that I think are the best, and I'll put them up for a vote from you, the readers. The top 3 vote getters will win the business cards. By the way, the cards are completely free, and UPS ground shipping will be paid for as well. As long as you live in Canada or the US. Sorry, rest of world.

I should also say that by submitting an LMG name on this site, you are relinquishing any rights to that name, and granting me full permission to actually use that name in my upcoming book without bugging for future royalties in perpetuity. Though if I do use the name, I will happily credit you in the intro, thus granting you future fame in perpetuity (at least with the handful of people that will read the book).

Let the names begin!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time for an update

Wow, I just noticed today that I haven't written a post in over a week. Silly me, getting caught up in other things. :)

Here are a few things that have been happening...

- I got strep throat last weekend and was out last Monday.

- We "grew" butterflies in the classroom. Started with caterpillars, saw chrysali one day, and then out popped butterflies. They're at a point now where they need to be released into the wild.

- TAKS test is a week from tomorrow. This week is all review, then it's time to let go of their hands and see if they walk out in front of the bus.

- We apparently don't have to wear ties at work anymore.

- Someone thought it would be funny to put a bottle of glue under one of the bus tires. When it got crushed, it sprayed glue all over me and 2 other teachers, but mostly me.

- Our new air conditioning comes on whenever I am NOT in the room and turns off when class IS in session.

- I haven't worn a tie to school all year.

- The class next door to me got a new kid today -- 10 years old -- who has already started calling his female classmates "The L Word."

And now you're up to date! Go forth and multiply!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

test scores vs teaching

My good friend and colleague has another editorial column up on the Dallas Morning News website, and it's an excellent read. He asks why the public insists on equating test scores to teachers' abilities.

His argument is a very valid one, and I don't think I feel that way JUST because I'm in the same boat as him. Recently, Edna Lee of Regurgitated Alphabits posted a link to a Miami Herald story about the Florida governor signing a bill to officially make students' test scores count for HALF of a teacher's yearly evaluation!!

Maybe I'm off on my math a little, but if we can assume that kids are in school for around 185 days out of the year and take 2 standardized tests, then 0.011% of each child's school year will account for 50% of a teacher's evaluation.

Nice job, Florida. Just don't let Texas see what you've started.

Monday, April 04, 2011

TAKS for the memories

TAKS day 1 is officially done. Not TAKS day 1 for MY kids, of course, but for the 5th graders who have to take their tests today and tomorrow. Today was the math test, and I was monitoring a group of 19 kids, who seemed to have gone to bed at midnight last night, judging by how often they kept dozing off.

At least none of them snored loudly or drooled on their papers. That's always a mess. But there were 3 kids who fell asleep BEFORE handing in their tests, and one of those fell asleep less than an hour into the test! AFTER the test, there were more like 10 or 11 who nodded off.

I haven't seen the movie "Little Fockers" yet, but I've seen the previews and the first 2 installments, and I kept thinking of De Niro today while walking around the room. No, not so much that I kept wanting to mutter, "Double dose" while looking at some of the kids' answer choices, but more because there were several times I made a gesture very similar to De Niro's, "I'm watching you." You know the one where he points at his eyes then points at Ben Stiller? Any time a kid would look back at me today or look around the room, I would point at my eyes and then downward.

For the most part, the kids seemed to understand my message as, "Keep your eyes on your paper," and nobody mistook it for, "I'm watching my crotch."

When each student finished his/her test, I would collect it, examine it for stray pencil marks or incorrect bubbling, and then ask him/her to sign a paper with the time they had finished. I sincerely hope there were not too many clock questions on this test, because no fewer than 4 kids in my group wrote the wrong time on this sign-out sheet.

After I collected the tests and answer documents, I brought the kids their book(s) to read for the rest of the day (if they weren't sleeping). One boy was midway through "Old Yeller." As I handed it to him, I said, "What a sad story, when they have to shoot him at the end!"

I'm just kidding, though I WAS tempted to spoil the ending.

One of the little girls in my group has a twin sister (they were both in my class 2 years ago) who was taking the test in another room. This little girl only asked to use the restroom one time today, around 1:30, and right as she was leaving the room, her twin sister walked by, headed to the restroom as well. SPOOOOOOKY twin psychic connection!!

In addition to test monitoring making for an incredibly slow and long day, this week is my grade level's turn to have morning duty. So I got to the school before 7AM. Tomorrow is going to seem even worse, because the NCAA college basketball championship game is tonight, starting at 8:23 CST (why so late??), and of course I have to go out with the guys and watch that. THEN, have another 7AM start AND another feet-dragging, soul-draining, skull-boring test monitoring day!

Hump day will never have looked so good!!!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

April sample chapter of LMG 2

Hey everyone,

Hope you had a great weekend of pranking, watching college basketball, and NOT giving a present to the kid in my class whose birthday was on Saturday. He asked SO many teachers on Friday if they had gotten him a gift. Too bad, so sad.

Today I am posting a new rough draft chapter of Learn Me Gooder. As always, I love to hear feedback, good, bad, or ugly, so feel free to leave a comment in the, well, comments section.

Oh, and you still have until Monday evening to vote for Learn Me Good in the March Madness Final Four!


Date: Friday, May 14, 2010

To: Fred Bommerson

From: Jack Woodson

Subject: Milk. It’s what’s for dinner.

Hey bud,

We went on our field trip today! Four months ago, I never thought this day would get here, but we finally got to leave the school and travel. Our destination was The Science Place, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, a really cool center with lots of hands-on activities, visual aids, and graphic displays. Though it's not Chuck E. Cheese's, it IS a place "where a kid can be a kid."

After the bell rang this morning, we didn't stay long at the school. Mrs. Bird and I took the attendance, collected homework from last night, took care of the kids' water imbalances (move some out, move some in), and sent the students from our classes who were staying behind to various classrooms around the school. Lenny, Richard, Bobby, and Violette all lost out on their chance to go with us. Let it be known that No Child Left Behind does NOT apply to field trips.

We filled up three school buses for the journey to The Science Place. Actually, the REST of the third-grade packed into the first two buses, while Mrs. Bird and I rode in comfort and luxury with our classes in the third bus. Or, as close as one can possibly get to comfort and luxury inside a loud, stinky, graffitied school vehicle.

The Science Place is located southeast of Dallas in Fair Park, right next door to where the Texas State Fair is held annually. There is an enormous Ferris wheel in Fair Park, and when that wheel came into sight, I heard several kids gasp, "Oooh!! Six Flags!!" These are no doubt the same kids who shout, "Oooh!! Disney World!!" every time they see a duck.

Once we got there, we really had a lot of fun. There were simple machines to try out, sound and light experiments to play with, restrooms to use -- it was like Christmas in April.

Over in the Health and the Human Body area, there was a full-sized ambulance, with a "trauma patient" in the back. By the time I wandered over to that area, there were about 10 kids packed into every available space around the gurney, and they were all trying to get their hands on the fake heart-stimulator paddles. Clearly, some of these kids have been watching old episodes of ER or something, because they understand that before you can use these paddles, you have to yell, "CLEAR!" at the top of your lungs. What they DON'T seem to comprehend is the true function of those paddles. In their minds, the object is to strike the patient's chest as violently as possible with the paddles. How this could possibly aid the recovery of a human being, I don't understand. But then, I've never really understood the mass appeal of Hot Cheetos, either.

Lunch was nice and serene, out on the side lawn. After everyone had eaten, though, we found that we had a problem. When we had picked up our lunches from the cafeteria in the morning, we also took three coolers full of milk and juice cartons. The cafeteria ladies warned us not to bring back any of the milk or juice. Well, when lunch was over, one cooler was still filled to the brim, and the other two were more than half full. A-ha, I thought to myself. I have a mission.

When I asked my kids who wanted another milk or juice, I only got about eight takers. That wasn't even enough to put a dent in the amount of liquid we had left over. Next I told the kids that they would really be helping me out, doing me a personal favor, by drinking another milk or juice. Surprisingly, this actually got a lot of response. Pretty soon, the juice was gone and we were down to one cooler, but it was still nearly full, and the kids seemed to be getting lactose intolerant. When I discovered that there was a lot more CHOCOLATE milk hidden under a couple of layers of white milk, the kids got motivated again. I can't believe I have so many milksists at my school!

Nevertheless, I was soon standing over a cooler with about ten cartons of regular white milk in it. Timmy and Joanne had each consumed at least four cartons and were swaying on their feet like punch drunk prizefighters. Nobody else was stepping up to finish the job.

But then I got a brilliant idea. A super-fantastic, genius idea. I reached down into the cooler and pulled out the object I had spied. I held it up over my head and shouted, "Whoever drinks a carton of milk gets a free ice cube!"

The kids closest to the cooler almost got trampled.

All this time… All I needed was to offer ice cubes, and my kids would have bent over backwards to learn their lessons? Oh well, I’ll have to remember that for next year.

Talk to you later,

Ben Afflactose

Friday, April 01, 2011

What are you people smoking?

I feel like it's time to step up and set the record straight on a few things that seem to be muddled in the public eye. Within the past 3-4 months, teachers are getting slammed, and I mean SLAMMED in certain states up north. Wisconsin and New York, I'm looking in your direction.

This is on top of the typical derision that US teachers seem to receive. As if teaching and getting paid is equivalent to breathing and being famous.

I will admit that I don't often watch the evening news. It's either too depressing, or it's too sycophantic (nuclear spills vs Snooki). But I do watch the Daily Show pretty regularly, so I've seen how the newish Wisconsin governor and the CNN stooges are vilifying teachers. Teachers only work till 2:30? Teachers are paid higher than private sector workers? Teachers receive $40K in benefits??

Um, I certainly don't know any teachers for whom any of those statements are true. And I'm not going to believe it just because somebody on CNN says it. In fact, I wouldn't believe it even if veteran character actor Sam Watterson, who America trusts with investment advice, knocked on my front door to inform me.

On a similar note, I've been receiving emails from a group called Education Action Group. These emails always have some theme of "Look what those evil teachers are trying to get away with now!" According to these emails, teacher unions are either bullying President Obama into giving them concessions, ignoring students' needs to stage strikes, or feeding tainted chocolate to stray puppies.

Listen, Education Action Group, if that IS your real name, take me the frick OFF your list! I'm not interested in drinking your Kool-aid! I have no idea how I ever got on your mailing list, but we are obviously going to have to disagree to disagree.

Their latest email said that teachers get free health care (certainly not where I work!), excessive benefit packages, and a tremendous amount of paid time off. Fact is, I pay out the butt for my health insurance, and even then, even AFTER I've paid off my ridiculous deductible, it still only pays for 80% of CERTAIN things.

As for the time off, ok, we get the summers off! I just wish people would stop saying that we get 3 months off for the summer! We leave school during the first week of June and go back during the second week of August. That's slightly more than 2 months. Semantics, you say? Hey, I don't accuse my engineering friends of having 3-day weekends every week, when they are really just 2 days.

I'm sure somebody will come along and accuse me of having a "martyr complex," whining about how teachers have it rough. Fine. Accuse away, because if you're doing that, then you're really not someone whose opinion I care about anyway.

I'm not saying that all teachers are blameless or perfect. I know several myself who certainly aren't. But the pundits and armchair quarterbacks of the private sector need to stop turning ALL of us into greedy, overpaid, whining, talentless leeches.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Bad Mood Bear

Why is it that I always seem to be in the worst moods on days after I've had a substitute? I was totally upset with my homeroom before 8:00 this morning, and my afternoon class didn't fare much better.

An extremely large part of this stemmed from the fact that almost none of the kids seemed to have done what they were supposed to yesterday, a day that I was out of the classroom attending a training. We have been working on a packet of 2-step word problems all week long, and their task yesterday was to complete the last 2 pages. There were 3 problems on each page, making a total of 6 problems to complete.

This was very nearly ALL that I had left for the substitute yesterday, meaning that the kids had nearly 2 hours to complete these 6 problems. Granted, they were two-step problems, where the answer choices were incomplete number sentences (ie, 24+35-17) that they had to solve first. In class Monday-Wednesday, these problems took the kids 10-20 minutes each to complete.

Give that parameter, I could understand a few kids not quite finishing the last problem. But aside from the four kids in my homeroom (NONE in my afternoon class) who finished all 6 problems, hardly anybody else was even close to finishing the two pages! Most of the kids didn't even finish the FIRST page! A couple of kids didn't even do ANY of the problems on those pages, because they didn't follow directions, instead working on another page.

The sub had posted directions on the board with the correct page numbers, so I know that the kids had been told what they needed to do. Also, except for a few kids who had been pulled for eye exams, nobody spoke up to tell me anything like, "The sub didn't tell us what to do!" or "The sub made us play games and color all day long!"

On top of all that, there were 3 kids in my homeroom and 2 in my afternoon class who did not bring completed homework. I've written at length about homework on this blog, and even gotten advice and strategies from other teachers. I know I should probably adopt the attitude of "any homework turned in is gravy," but I am not to that point yet. Especially with this one.

Our school's policy is to give math homework on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. This Tuesday, I passed out a homework with 5 two-step word problems on it. I told the kids that I knew these problems took a lot of time and that I was going to be very nice and give them extra time. That this homework was due not on Wednesday, but on Friday. That there would be no homework on Thursday. That they had 3 days to complete all 5 problems.

I then stressed that this was important practice for the test we'd be having Friday (today). That there would be no excuses at all accepted for not completing it and bringing it on Friday. That they needed to do ALL 5 and show all the work, the way we've been practicing. That anyone who DID, would have a chance to win the plants we've been observing in science. That anyone who did NOT, would get a code in their conduct folder, would get a zero in the gradebook, would lose recess and have to clean the cafeteria after lunch for 2 weeks, would have to explain to our assistant principal why they had not done the homework.

I thought I had gone fire-and-brimstoney enough for all of them, but I still had those 5 come unprepared this morning. 2 of them had done some of the problems, but not all. The other 3 claimed to have done the homework at home, but that they had forgotten to bring it. Crazily enough, they all had their homework FOLDERS, just not the homework. I asked how often they bring a lunchbox with no food in it, but I think the sarcasm was lost on them.

One of the boys also initially told me that he did the homework but forgot to bring it. He then changed his story to say that his pencil had broken and that he therefore could not finish the problems. According to his sob story, he only had that one pencil at home, and his one and only pencil sharpener was in the shop as well.

At lunchtime, I took these 5 kids down to the assistant principal's office to make good on THAT promise. She asked them when I had given them the homework, and none of the kids could even tell her that! I asked them what days I assigned math homework, and they looked at me cluelessly, before beginning to guess. Wednesday? Thursday? Saturday?

Yeah, the kids with the broken pencil and sharpener said that I give them homework on Saturdays. I almost asked the AP if she still REALLY needed me to turn in my forecast of who would be passing TAKS.

She then asked the kids one at a time what their excuse was. There was the forgetting. There was blaming the mom. ("I gave it to my mom to look at, and she didn't give it back to me!") One kid stated matter-0f-factly, "Because I was too lazy." I almost cracked up at that one.

I don't think I've ever signed so many conduct folders in one day. Only 3 kids escaped with no code today. Should have been 4, but one of the kids who DID his work yesterday didn't get his conduct folder signed last night!

I suppose if there's any silver lining to this, it's that I saved on candy. I give a piece of candy to everyone who didn't get any codes each week. Last week, I gave out around 20 candies. This week, 3.

Bring on the weekend.