Monday, December 29, 2008

Breaktime chores

I am about to write 2 recommendations for students that must be postmarked before January 1, 2009. I would say that I'm procrastinating, but recommendations require some serious thinking, at least for me, since I want to be honest and positive at the same time. In these 2 students' cases it's not a problem because they are good students who do well in their work. One I've had for 2 years, the other I've only had for this year. The latter asked me for a recommendation mainly because he is applying to my alma mater, and he thought it wouldn't hurt to get one from an alumna. I agree, especially since I've worked to get any student to look at my alma mater over my years of teaching, and he's the first one I hooked. It helps that about half of his family also went to the same university, but I like to think that I am such a good influence that he was drawn to that school. Now, if I can only convince the admissions people that he's a keeper.

After that I get to start grading projects that were due on the last day before Christmas break. I'm glad that I have such specific rubrics since they keep me honest and actually make it easy for me to grade them. I figure that will keep me busy for the remainder of this morning.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Where did I go?

I have been considering giving up on having a teacher blog over the past few weeks. My brother, however, says that he continues to check out my blog hoping to see a new post. I guess that I will shelve the idea of quitting and start anew, so to speak. Meantime, here's a silly story about a student:

I had her last year in one of my math classes. She was hard-put to get quiet and work, but her work was fine. She was one of those students I was glad to pass on to the next math teacher. She showed up early in this school year asking for a college recommendation. I agreed with unspoken reservations, but I wrote an honest, if somewhat short, recommendation. In October, I confiscated her cell phone because she had it out during school hours and gave it to the dean of students. After that, every time she saw me, she loudly said to any and all around, "I am not talking to you." I would just smile and continue on my way.

Early in December, she showed up in my classroom during my planning period. She commented on my music (Bach played by the late Virgil Fox) then asked if she could borrow a calculator from me for a test she had to take during that period. I responded, "I thought you weren't talking to me." She said, "I wasn't, but I am now. May I borrow a calculator for this test?" I loaned her a calculator, and she zipped back to her test. When I walked down the hall past her classroom, I just chuckled. She did return the calculator. She also returned to saying, "I'm not talking to you." whenever she sees me, but she isn't so loud. As for me, I'm still chuckling when I see her.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Homework Confessions

I am just sitting at my computer procrastinating as usual. It's usual in that I have a stack of homework, tests, and make up work to grade. I absolutely hate to grade homework! So I procrastinate since it is the homework that I need to grade the most.

I am trying some self-psychology at this point. I am reminding myself of how much better I feel whenever I am caught up in my grading. It is true that I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of me whenever I have all the grading done, but I still hate to do the grading. Hence, I procrastinate. Even writing this confession is a form of procrastination. Yet, I want my students to do everything in a timely fashion. I am such a hypocrite!

There is a reason why I hate to grade homework and classwork. In order to save the school money and myself time plus make the expense of buying the textbooks worth their while for the parents my homework assignments are usually out of the textbooks. This means that the students will put their work in various sheets of paper requiring some effort on my part to figure out what is what. I do require that all problems be numbered even if they were done out of order; I am not going to spend my time trying to figure out which answer goes to which problem. I also require that the student's name be on the first page of the homework, I allow my students to use my stapler in order to keep homework with more than 1 page together, and I take the "teacher's prerogative" of determining what different characters and words are if they are difficult to read -- I refuse to argue on those points because it is the student's responsibility to insure that his/her work is legible. Frankly, saving the school money by not making and copying worksheets is messy for me. I have fellow math teachers who are absolute fiends about copying worksheets partially to make the grading easier. With the economy the way that it is, I wonder how long they will be allowed to continue that.

Now, there is another way to deal with the said homework grading, and I have used it. It is to put the answers on the board and go around checking that the students did their work while they check their answers. It is faster, but the students learn to make marks that look like work when skimmed by the passing teacher when, in fact, they had done no work at all. I found that this method did not do much in the way of helping my students learn the subject. So I collect their homework and grade page by page .... and I procrastinate when it piles because I have not had time for it.

There is another way to deal with homework that is accumulating. That is to just chuck it in the trash without looking at it. I knew a principal who said that he gave daily quizzes when he taught and he would throw away occasionally ungraded quizzes when time was short. I do not give daily quizzes, so those I do grade, but I do trash some homework and classwork at times. The caveat for me is to check every piece of paper so that make up work does not get trashed also.

I do not have the same distaste for grading tests and quizzes that I do for homework, and there is a reason for that. My tests and quizzes are all done on photocopied sheets so they are not messy in form. It is much easier to go through them, so I usually do them rather quickly.

There is one other thing regarding how I grade both homework, tests, and quizzes. I mark every answer whether correct or incorrect. Correct gets a check mark, and incorrect gets circled. I also write notes and examples on their work so that I can do a little one-on-one in their work that gets returned to them. My intent is for them to learn no matter what; it is not just to "give" them a grade for their effort. (I have noticed that students "earn" an A, but they are "given" a D or worse. It is amazing how their viewpoints change about their work based upon their grade. I guess they do not realize yet that they are fooling no one, especially their teachers and parents, with their words.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

New teaching tip from old exceptional children's teachers

In the South, just about any amount of snow or ice on the road means either a snow day or a one-to-two hour delay or a one-to-two hour early dismissal. Well, for the first time in the 24 years that I have lived here, we had snow before Thanksgiving. Hence, on Friday we had a two hour delay to the start of school. Normally, that would not be a problem for me, but the math department was assigned Fridays for tests and major projects, and I had planned to give tests all day. I had already printed the tests for my first 3 math classes with the intent that they would take the better part of our usual 47 minute periods. What to do?

I did not want to completely reprint the tests since that would be a waste of paper, so I went through them and crossed off 4 problems, leaving 37 to do. In the first class, there were a lot of complaints about the lack of time and the students' desires to move the test to Monday. Knowing the principal's opinion of such an action, I said no to their request and had them start. At the end of class I had agreed to the following: those who wanted to finish their tests later in the day could, and the others' tests would be graded on what they already did with the caveat that each problem would be worth more. The students were satisfied, but I was not. I had 2 more classes taking the same test, so I needed to think quickly.

When the next class started, I told them that I decided to give them their tests one page at a time. They would do one page, hand it in, and receive the next page. That way if they did not finish within the shorter class, they could finish on Monday (As another math teacher pointed out early on Friday: we cannot give tests on Monday, but we can complete them then.). All but one student finished the entire test within the time allotted. That one student was upset because she had to do one page at a time, so she only worked on the first page. I assume that she had talked with students from the first class and believed that her class would get the same deal from me. I will not go back on my word for any particular class, but that does not mean that I have to offer the same to the remaining classes. Every teacher knows that one makes the most mistakes on the first class in the day of a particular subject, and I did that in this case. By the third class, everything was running smoothly for this test.

I learned this technique from our learning support/exceptional children/special education teachers. We have students with diagnosed requirements of extra time to take tests, so what our LS teachers do in those cases is give the tests one page at a time. That way the students do not know what's on the next page if they have to finish their tests later in the day. I offer this tip to all teachers who, like me, find themselves having to give an already printed test in a shorter time frame than originally planned. It works. Now, if I could only go back on my word to my first class ... ;-)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Of parents and teachers in high school

There is a major difference between the parents of students in "poor" public high schools and the parents of students in "well-to-do" public high schools and non-public schools. The difference is the accessibility of the parents to the teachers and the willingness on the part of the parents to show up at school functions in order to talk with their children's teachers.

When I taught in public high schools, I always seemed to be teaching in poor schools, the type considered to be schools of failure -- and with 4th year freshmen, i.e. 18-year-olds, some of them had really earned that title. I learned early on that the students who believed that their parents would never hear of their misbehaviors were the worst behaved in classes. We would have open houses for the parents, and I would be lucky to see one parent even though I taught mostly freshmen and sophomores. I did learn to call parents between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturdays because that was when parents were more likely to answer their phones rather than letting their children do so. I did have a few interesting situations because of this. The first one was when the mother said to me, "Well, what do you expect me to do about it? She treats me the same way!" At least, I tried in that case and had documentation of it. Another time I heard the mother turn around to her daughter and use the worst language in screaming at her daughter for making her receive a phone call from a teacher on a Saturday morning. In that case, I spoke to the girl privately later when we met between classes. I try to make it a rule never to say that what a parent does is wrong, but I kind of broke that rule then. I told the girl that most parents don't use profanity when talking with their children. The girl and I agreed from then on to work things out between us because I was never going to call that mother again.

Where I teach now, the parents are an integral and important part of the school community. Many of them volunteer to work in the office and other places. They seek out their children's teachers in order to speak with them. There are, of course, some "missing" parents, but they are the very small exception to the rule. Usually when I try to contact my students' parents, I have very little trouble finding them. Our open houses are full, both the ones for parents of current students and the ones for parents of potential students. I would say that the cost of a non-public education is the main reason for this, but my acquaintances who teach in well-to-do public schools see the same types of relationships, so out-of-pocket cost is not the only reason. There are parents who are vested in their children's education and those who are not. Now, if we could only get the unvested ones to be vested. Hmmm.

I close with a story told me by another teacher. The way that legislators look at public education and teachers is much like the idea of making dentists responsible for the state of their patients' teeth without taking into account how the different patients take care of their own teeth when not in the dentists' offices. Educating young people takes responsibility of all people involved in their lives, all the way from birth until high school graduation. In our society, that's very hard to do sometimes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The BookWorm Award ....

My brother, Just the Library Keeper A.K.A. Earl, put this on his blog, so I guess I will continue it.

Rules:Pass it on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The CLOSEST BOOK, NOT YOUR FAVORITE, OR MOST INTELLECTUAL!

The problem with my book is that it is a paperback Webster's Dictionary. Frankly, we keep our computers in a common room which is small, so we do not have much else in it except software, paper, etc. It's a workroom for us. Here goes.

blitz (blits) n. sudden, concentrated attack -- blitz'krieg (-kreeg) n. sudden, concentrated military attack; war conducted in this way
bliz.zard (BLIZ-erd) n. a blinding storm of wind and snow

I believe that that is enough for anyone really into this. Unfortunately, I only read my brother's and my mother's blogs, so I offer this to any other bloggers out there. Have fun. Maybe you have more interesting books in your computer area than I do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Group Work and Projects

Over the years I've learned not to pay too much attention to students complaining about the work they have to do when it comes to group work and projects. All I usually hear is the complaining until the end of the year when they may actually say that they really liked the group work and/or the projects. Sometimes I hear from their parents about how they came home all excited and talked about something they had done as part of a group or how proud they were of their projects. As I said, all I hear at the time is the whining and complaining because I make them continue on their merry way to an education.

The seniors returned from a week of internships on Monday -- one day of class followed by no school on Veterans Day. How to set the tone for getting back to work? I looked at my lesson plans from prior years for my functions and modeling classes and discovered that I had written 2 ways to teach an introductory lesson to power functions, i.e. functions of x^n . One way was lecture and demonstration on the overhead calculator. The other way was to have the students in groups take an exponent, create a table of values for x to the said exponent, plot the points, sketch the curve between the points, and answer some questions about what their final graph shows them. Each group would then present their graph and their findings to the class. All of this within a 47 minute class. I decided to go with the group work format because they would probably be more engaged with it than with the lecture. It was successful as far as that went, but I did spend much of each class walking among the groups to keep them on task while answering questions. The presentations were good considering the lack of planning time for the groups. Wrong answers were corrected with no embarrassment. They learned more than I could have taught them in a straight lecture even with the overhead calculator. Of course, it actually was more work for me in that classroom management is far easier with students sitting in straight rows being quiet, but I am teaching for their learning. If I wanted a quiet career just for the money, I would still be in private industry.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Back to Traffic

I noticed that it has been about 2 weeks since I wrote. Basically, my cold took longer to go away, and the first quarter end hit at the same time. I survived field day by doping myself up with cold medicine (I always wonder why it is called cold medicine since it does not help get rid of the cold; it just makes it possible to function at a low level without causing others to notice one's condition too much.). The day was supposed to be sunny, but it was overcast and breezy instead. I had taken my own advice by wearing layers which made the chill tolerable. Some of my homeroom, however, didn't take the advice as seriously as they should have. ... and what is it about teenage boys that they can go around in tee-shirts without jackets or sweatshirts or anything else and still claim not to be cold? The teachers all agreed that it was not wise to change the date of field day just because of a play. I hope that this mistake will not be repeated.

As I feared, my cold did not go away but hung on. The problem with a cold is the fact that it drains my energy. That's good for making sure that I get enough rest to get rid of it, but it wears on my teaching and non-teaching tasks. I struggled for the next 3 days to teach, to catch up with grading make up work, and to answer students' questions about their grades. Thankfully, on Friday (Halloween) there was no school so that faculty could get their grades done. They were due online by 8:15 Monday morning. I actually didn't spend long at the school since most of my work could be done on the internet. I had some problems with accessing my computer science students' programs, but other than that everything else was almost ready. I loaded up the needed programs and headed home after I got some help with my immediate problem.

I decided to defragment/pack my hard drive and install the compiler I needed so that I could grade my students' programs at home rather than at the school because it would be much easier for me. I messed up the download of the compiler somehow, spent much of the weekend trying to figure out what I had done/not done, and ended up downloading a different compiler so that I could finish grading the programs.

I zipped off to school on Monday, getting there 1 1/2 hours before the deadline to tweak the grades. In my math classes I always drop the lowest quiz grade and 1/10 of the homework grades at the end of the quarter, and I had not done that yet because of the time I used in trying to fix a problem that I never fixed. I was finished on time, though. This past week has been easier because the seniors were out on their required 1-week internship. I lost 2 classes completely for the week, had 3 classes with 6 or fewer students, and only had one class that had only 5 seniors (missing) to 18 juniors. That class (computer science) had videos about computers and science fiction all week.

I spent a lot of time at the school planning for my Honors Probability and Statistics class which is the only class that I had never taught until this year. I've learned over the years to keep my notes on my computer science and my functions and modeling classes intact so that I can start from them each year. I never really needed to keep notes from one year to the next when it came to teaching straightforward algebra, but functions and modeling is an applied mathematics class, so I need the notes for reference. The computer science notes I keep have to do with the programming language I use (Java) and not computer science itself, since I come from the world of private industry and computer programming and systems analysis ... plus I'm a computer science grad school dropout (not due to grades ... my grades were fine).

Thursday afternoon and evening and all day Friday were set aside for parent-teacher conferences, but I had very few of those. The teachers for the freshmen and sophomores get most of the conferences. I did get time to help another teacher change the format of her homework website from an icon-driven menu to a "frames" version, i.e. no icons. I am not sure what it is about English teachers, but most of them think it's important to look sophisticated. I guess most math teachers don't think that way because it is hard enough getting students to understand how necessary and useful math is so that they will actually want to learn. We tend not to be so distant in our own ways.

I am over my cold completely. I do find it hard to go back to my healthy way of life every time I get sick. I have not exercised for nearly 3 weeks, so I am having trouble convincing myself to start up again. I will do it, though. Likewise, I need to get back to blogging.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cold blahs

I got a cold on Tuesday, or maybe I should say I noticed that I had a cold on Tuesday. I keep hand sanitizer and tissues on my desk for students to use, but I still pick up colds from them. I really didn't want to go to school on Wednesday; I just wanted to curl up inside a big blanket and sleep the day away. I went, however, because of the problems with being a high school math teacher. It is nearly impossible to get a substitute teacher who can teach mathematics, so one is left with the job of creating practice worksheets. The computer science students are easier. All I have to do is insure that they have a programming assignment and have them meet in the computer lab. Come of think of it, I don't really recall having any math teachers who were out much when I was in school. I wonder how long this particular problem has been around in the history of education?

I am holed up inside for the weekend because on Monday our school is having its annual field day, and I need to get rid of this cold before then. I have a freshman homeroom which means that I need my energy levels up so that I can help them walk their way through this homeroom versus the other homerooms all-day event. Here's hoping that I get rid of it by Sunday night.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Simple ideas

I have been thinking about the drive to technology use in the schools, and whether it shortchanges the students' experiences in their learning. I give you a case in point. When I was first teaching, I took the opportunity of having a principal-trainee help me in designing more interesting lessons. I taught the lesson I designed to my third-period class, and he taught the lesson which he designed based upon my original lesson plan to my fourth-period class. What really impressed me about his version of my lesson was the use of construction paper learning materials. He had been an elementary-school teacher originally, but these were high school students. I had been warned in my education classes not to use things like construction paper, candy, stickers, or stamps with high school students because those things were too closely associated with elementary school children. The view was that high school students wanted to be treated more like adults and less like small children. I definitely threw that warning out of my teaching bag of tricks after my experience with the principal-trainee's lesson plan. Since then, I always have stickers, stamps, construction paper, art supplies, and occasionally candy in my classroom. Teenagers love them!

This all came to the forefront when I discovered from my lesson on Monday that my students could not seem to understand a basic algebraic concept from their prior algebra classes. After serious musing on how to reteach the lesson, I pulled out my bag of tricks. I created a PowerPoint slide show with animation and sound to demonstrate the concept in a different way. Then, I took out of my desk a set of envelopes with construction paper letters glued on them. I created these over 10 years ago, and they still work well. The letters on the outside represent variables (x, y, a, and b). They all have magnetic tape on the back so I can hang them on my metal white board. I put inside each of them an index card with a number or an algebraic expression written on it. In Tuesday's reteach, I started with the slide show which got my students looking at the concept in a different way, but it was when I had individual students come up and use my "variable envelopes" in equations that they really understood the concept. Hmm. Slide show was fun and funny, but it didn't quite make the connection for the students. Old construction paper variable envelopes were cheap and fun to use, and they did make the connection. By the way, the concept stuck with most of the students after that lesson.

This does not mean that I am against using technology in the schools. I use it every day. I was the one who got our school to have homework websites for every faculty member. It saves time for the faculty and allows students to keep up with their assignments and upcoming projects even when they are out sick. Our grading system is on the internet and keeps parents and students up-to-date with the students' progress. The English, history, and other departments in which students write papers and reports use an online service to check for plagarism and cheating . These are all very useful examples of school technology at its best. I just don't believe that technology should be one's first choice when writing lesson plans. Sometimes simple ideas work best.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

When is standard time?

I have been thinking that it is rather dark in the morning these days. Being a person who wakes more to light than to sound, I woke up at the unheard-of time after seven a.m. yesterday and today. It is too dark for morning right now. I really have no idea how farm families manage if they have extra jobs off the farm since animals do not know about daylight savings time. My personal opinion: if we really want to have daylight savings time all year, why don't we just move our office, school, business, etc. times off by an hour and then we don't have to change our clocks at all. Frankly, living in eastern time, I am somewhat jealous of central time since they can get the same tv shows coming on an hour earlier in the evening. Then, I could watch whatever I wanted and still get up at 6 a.m. bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Of course, I could move, but I like where I live so that's a no-brainer.

Regarding people dropping responsibilities whenever they feel like it: the librarian did not need me the last 2 days of the week. She had a volunteer working over my lunch period on Thursday, and an English teacher had a class in during lunch on Friday which required the librarian's presence. If I were paranoid, I'd wonder if she found out I had a blog and she read it ... but I'm not paranoid. I'm just a one-noid. ;-)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Responsibility, or lack there of

There's a saying about how 20% of an organization do 80% of the work. I swear that some of the not-working-so-much 80% are people who have learned to ignore responsibilities they do not care to do and for which they are not called on by their supervisors. One school example: all of the teachers in my school have a week of lunch duty in the cafeteria 4 to 5 times a year. They generally do it because the principal calls them on it when they don't show up ... plus their lack affects what goes on the principal's final performance assessment for the year. Now, we have a second week of lunch duty 4 to 5 times a year, only this time it's in the library. Apparently, our current librarian does not feel comfortable getting parent volunteers to watch the library during the 3 lunchtimes, so she arranged with the administration to have the teachers take over. What has happened is this: those who care about doing the right thing show up for their duty times and the rest do not bother to even acknowledge that they have such duty assigned to them. Since the librarian does not have the gumption either to call the missing teachers and remind them of their duty nor to complain to the administration about this, less than half of the faculty do the library duty. This puts more of a burden to those ones only because then the librarian depends completely upon those people to get time off for her to get her lunch, etc.

Obviously, I am complaining because this is my library lunch duty week and the same suspects are missing. Hence, instead of sharing this duty so that each of us gets to have at least one day of duty off, I get the entire week. Hmm. I think I'll call my absent associates and ask them where have they been all week? Or maybe I'll mention the problem to the administration in a non-accusing way. Or maybe I'll take the cowards way out and do nothing but show up as usual since my experience has been that once I take on a responsibility, I do get in trouble if I join the slacker group even for a day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Homecoming Week

Being that I teach in a non-public school, we have extra rules regarding dress and decorum ... and not just for the faculty and staff! Well, homecoming week knocks that down for a bit. Monday was pajama day with dire threats for students wearing negligees, babydolls, too short shorts, boxers, etc. Tuesday was celebrity day. I saw 2 John McCains, 1 Barak Obama, 3 Audrey Hepburns, and a bunch of characters and actors from shows I've never watched. I heard rumors of 1 Sara Palin but I missed her. Those political masks are very disturbing in their own way. Wednesday was tacky day. That's enough of a description for anyone. Thursday was decades day with each class having a decade assigned to it. Being the junior class moderator, I seriously considered wearing an old fringed leather vest from the 70's which was the juniors decade, but I realized that someone had to be the adult in the class. Friday was spirit day when students wore the school colors.

It was enjoyable except when the students would try to play around because they were out of standard dress code. For that reason, and my years of experience, I opted to dress very severely every day. At least I was taken seriously by my students in all my classes. My choices came in handy on Wednesday when I went down to the cafeteria to monitor the silent study hall during activity period with the students who chose not to join a club. I was not in the best of moods at that time because all faculty who had no clubs meeting were to be there helping with the study hall, but I was the only one there. I ended up talking with the principal about my need to have at least one other teacher due to the number of students. When the principal showed up with another teacher, I got kudos for my student management of getting them all facing the same way so they could not talk across the tables and having them silently working already. Severe looks can really help sometimes.

Friday we had too assemblies and I gave 4 tests in shortened periods. Plus I took someone's first period study hall. The class that followed the first assembly was so short that my students did not finish their tests. They will finish them on Monday since it was not their fault. Meanness and lack of fairness are not my forte in teaching. I had really wanted to go to the football that evening, but I was so tired from grading notebooks on the fly, grading computer science programs on the fly, administering and proctoring tests, running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and helping students and faculty, that when my son finished his work for the day, we headed home where I promptly fell asleep for about 2 hours. I'm still somewhat tired, but I plan on spending my afternoon in the arms of Morpheus. If I'm smart, I'll go to the late afternoon mass at one of the local Catholic churches so that I can rest up tomorrow morning, too.

I do love homecoming week, but this year it was purely exhausting. Next on the list is Backwards Homecoming during basketball season. At least I have a few months between then and now to catch up on my rest. ;-)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

That One class

Every teacher knows that every class has its own personality, some ones have a lot more personality than others. This year due to my new slogan of "always use good manners in this classroom" and my personal mantra of "solemn and sober" I have my classes working well on most days. There is this one class, however ... the One class. It has 12 students, 8 of which I've had before when I was having problems with settling my classroom management all through the year. I have problems with that class even though I've used all of my bag of tricks. I think I know the students too well, or maybe I just like a lot of excitement in my life. On to this week's story.

I asked the dean of students Monday morning if we could meet and discuss my problems and possible solutions regarding this class after school. She agreed. During that class that day we had 2 fire drills in a row. In our school the students are to leave the classroom silently for any drill and remain silent until the all clear signal is given. The first time in the hall I was called out by the principal because my students were being noisy. 12 students? In a hall of several hundred? Very weird. Actually, I was very troubled by his admonition, so troubled that I could not bring myself to mention it to my family that night. I did try to see him later in the day, but he was too busy with the office staff out for training to see anyone for a non-crisis conversation. I did meet with the dean after school, and she said that she was coming to my classroom the next day to speak with my students. This was something unusual for me since I am still having trouble going from public to non-public school mode.

The next day I had already decided to change their assigned seating (a very quick way to achieve a few days of respite) and to continue working on making the lesson plans solid for the entire period. I asked the principal about his calling me out, and he told me that when he asked the noisiest students from where they were coming, they told him they were coming from my room. Ouch! I did note to him that I had already spoken to the dean prior to the fire drills about helping me with that very class, and he seemed pleased that I had started putting things right early in the year. The dean came to my classroom between class change. I had the new seating plan up for the students to see when they came. The dean raised cain with the class and told them that anytime I wrote them up for speaking out or acting up, she was going to give them Saturday detention for that week. They took her seriously, but we shall see. We shall see.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

No personal time available.

One thing I have noticed about teaching over the years is that, unlike working in private industry, I almost never have time for myself outside of the class day. Before and after school I help/tutor my students who are having trouble understanding or remembering the lessons plus giving make up quizzes and tests for those who were out. (I picked up a "tool" from my former college professors. I insure that the make ups are different and harder than the originals so that students are motivated to be in school on test/quiz days or to take the test/quiz before a field trip or whatever so that they do not have to take the make up. There are far too many students in both public and non-public schools who have the habit of being out for a test and coming back after they've learned from their friends just what the test covers and how to mark it in order to get an A. My logic? If I have to go the extra mile to grade it just for them, then they have to go the extra mile just to make a passing grade. By the way, those make ups do cover exactly the same material; they just have more problems and no multiple choice for definitions.)

Back to my lack of personal time. When I do go home, I nap for about half an hour or so. Being a world-class introvert, I am wearied by being around people for the entire day with little or no time by myself to recharge myself. Of course, before taking my nap, I spend at least half an hour or so listening to my husband who has been home without conversation for most of the day. Typical person that I am, I married my alter-ego, i.e. my husband is an extrovert and needs to recharge by being around people and talking. Hence, I get a dose of it when I walk through the door every afternoon. My husband makes dinner -- he's the homemaker and has been most of our married life -- while I wake up and mentally prepare for the evening. There's conversation at dinner mostly spoken by my husband, sometimes by me, and rarely by our adult son who works at the same school but in the technology area. After supper comes grading papers or rarely lesson planning. I work to find time to exercise regularly without getting the exercise too close to dinner nor too close to bedtime. Lastly is bed between 9 and 10 p.m. Closer to 9 anytime I can get it there. Then rise and shine between 5 and 6 a.m. with the assistance of my cat. No wonder I have little personal time! How do teachers with small children and a spouse also working outside the home do it?

Weekends are my time ... except that I always bring work home to get done before Monday. I catch up on 2 hours naps Saturday and Sunday afternoons. I iron my work clothes. (My husband and I agreed when we first married that each of us would be responsible for ironing our own clothes, and we have done that ever since. Last year my son started ironing his clothes, so I am left to just my own clothes again.) I spend time with husband and son. If I have to shop or get my hair cut or whatever, that's when I do it. Church at either 5 p.m. Saturday (Catholic) or 8 a.m. Sunday (Episcopal) unless I mess up with my weekend plans. Extra long time for exercising each day. Writing to family, catching up on my brother's blog, cooking one special meal, usually pizza, and just zoning out while reading old newspapers (I'm almost done with June this weekend). Now, you know why I am currently only writing one blog post a week. Once I get to a particular point, I may be able to get back to at least twice a week, but this is where I am right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Short class week

One advantage of teaching is that the schools do create those in-service days so that we can earn our license renewal credits while the schools do not have to pay for substitutes. Hence, I taught for 3 days only this week. The students loved the idea of having a 4-day weekend, but I gave my Advanced Functions and Modeling students an assignment that will take longer than the usual half-hour assignment I give for school nights.

Why only a half hour? We do not use a block schedule (Thank God!), but our students have 7 classes a day -- some juniors and seniors give up their lunch to have 8 classes a day, so I do not give more than half an hour's worth of homework for one night on Monday through Thursday. Studies have shown that high school students tend to retain best when they have 2 hours total of homework (that's all subjects combined). Less than that, they retain less. More than that, they do not retain nor learn more. I do tell my students that if they are working on my homework Monday through Thursday nights and they hit 45 minutes, to stop right there and tell me about it the next day. Since my math classes are filled with students who have learning disabilities, I know that some of them will pay dearly for taking longer to do their work if I don't give them an out. I remember when one of my daughter's middle school teachers assigned 2 hours of work every night for each of the 2 subjects she taught my daughter, and I never want that to happen with my students. Weekends, however, are fair game for longer assignments.

I received an email on Thursday afternoon from a former AP Computer Science student who graduated last year and is in his freshman year of engineering. I have changed and italicized words and names to protect his privacy.

Hey Ms. D.,

I'm here at college and had some free time so I thought I'd see how things were with you at the high school.

I just wanted to also let you know how a few things in your class are coming back in classes I have now. I thought I'd tell you so when students ask when they'll use it, tell them I'm using it already, less than a month into college.

In my Engineering Exploration course (required of all freshman engineering students) we're doing flowcharting. Our third quiz will be almost solely on flowcharting and our first test will deal with it some. My next homework assignment is to create a flowchart to find the volume of a frustrum cone and return only certain values. I never did any flowcharting because I did independent Honors CS, but I know you teach it in the regular class. I haven't had to use any Java yet, but my professors have said that just a basic knowledge of Java will help when we touch on some other programming languages used more by engineers.

So, thanks for everything over the years.

Take care,

Your former student

Sunday, September 14, 2008


One thing that I learned in education classes was not to start on one track and then suddenly go to something else that I just remembered. I did that yesterday on this blog. I named it "Haunted School" because I was going to tell about some spooky stuff going on in my classroom, but I got sidetracked into talking about my normal school day. Oops! On to the original story.

In my morning classes over Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, my students and I heard thumping in the front outer wall corner. I originally said that it was the teacher next door because he was known for having his students do some rather noisy activities; that was Wednesday. When it started up again Thursday, I just walked over to his classroom and asked him about it, but he and his students had not done anything noisy. I knew that my classroom was over part of the library storage areas, so I spoke with the librarian during lunch. She said that there had been some students in the one area watching a DVD. "Ha!" I thought. That was Thursday. Come Friday, the same knocking started up again. I immediately called the library to see if there were students in that area again, but there were none. The librarian asked the technology coordinator and the maintenance supervisor. She discovered that the H/AC system was being worked on and that the pipes/vents in the walls above the storage areas were being affected. Hence, the knocking we heard (by this time she heard it too when she was in those areas).

Drat! I really was hoping for a ghost even though the school building is only 8 years old. It would have been fun, so to speak. Maybe we can have someone bang the pipes on the week before Halloween!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Haunted School

Due to the extremes of teaching, I have had no time yet to catch up on what's going on. We had the annual "back to school" night for parents of current students to follow their children's schedules and meet the teachers on Wednesday. I did not get home until 10 p.m. which may not sound bad until you know that I always get up between 5 and 6 a.m. on school days. So Thursday I was dragging all day like all the other teachers. The fact that I am an introvert and need a lot of alone time to energize myself does not help on days like that.

When I was in private industry, I could never understand why teachers complained about not having enough time. I was working 50-60 hours weeks a lot of the time, and I did not need more than 2 weeks vacation and a few holidays for any given year. Not really, but I believed that teachers had altogether too much time on their hands. I was so wrong. I get to the school as early as I can to get my day set up. This includes just mentally remembering which day it is and what each subject requires (yes, I use a planning book, but teaching to teenagers is not something most people do well on the fly -- organization is extremely important because in this day and time, one cannot leave one's students to take a quick trip to the restroom or copy a paper or just about anything). I need to take care of all personal needs, do any copying necessary for the day, set my room up for my first class, respond to parent calls and emails, help any students who come by, and go over my in-depth lesson plans for the day. That's just the regular before-school duties. When I was in a public school, the duties were worse.

Then the school day begins. Teaching and enforcing school policies are the 2 main duties of that time period. Teaching takes so much out of me that I make sure that I keep exercising in the evenings so that my energy level stays up with me. Another teacher swims every morning at 5:30 a.m. for her health and energy. We all have our ways to keep going amongst very energetic and enthusiastic young people. About once a month I have some type of lunch duty. This past week was lunch duty in the dining hall. It's not bad actually. I just have to help the administrator make sure that the students clean the tables before leaving lunch. In other schools I had to make sure that no one cut into lines (cause of many fights) or that no one tried to get into the rest of the school buildings. The one year that I taught at a middle school, I had lunch with my students every single day. I bow to all teachers who have that situation. They are saints in my mind. Next month I get lunch duty in the library for a week, mainly due to our current librarian's discomfort with trying to get parents to help her watch students during lunch. At least there I have a computer with which to work.

After school, there are meetings, helping students, answering calls and emails, copying more papers, doing anything else necessary for the next morning. If I remember, I make doctor, dental, whatever appointments before their offices close at 5. Last year, I chaperoned the senior class after school coffee shop twice a week. I also try to do some walking around the track with another teacher when we can get together; it gives us some exercise, time to talk with each other, and time to talk with students at practices. I strongly recommend walking around the school track after school for all those reasons. We leave the track refreshed and energized for the evening.

At home, I nap, then supper, followed by grading papers, lesson planning, exercising if time allows. After all that, blessed sleep.

I was so arrogant about the teaching profession when I was in private industry, and now I'm paying for it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Weekend work

So I spent much of yesterday morning grading my computer science tests before going out for exercise and fun. Now, while I am on the Internet, I get to add their grades to the online grading system the school has. Then I have quizzes and homework from the statistics class, homework from 2 of my 3 functions and modeling class plus doing the week's lesson plans for statistics. That's just the absolute school work I brought home with me. I also have my clothes to iron, and my rooms to straighten up. That's the work I've always had to do, even when I was working in private industry. I think I'm just procrastinating right now.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Week 2 Over

I finished the second week of teaching yesterday. It was my department's test day (Friday), so I gave 2 computer science tests. I do not recall having special departmental test days when I was a student, but this is the second school where I've taught that assigns specific weekly test days. The problem with math is the fact that it makes lesson planning awkward because I cannot test when I finish a section or chapter. I find myself making extra lessons to use so that the students do not forget what they've learned on their way to the test. I feel like I'm juggling oranges and have just added the spinning plates to my show. At least with Friday test days, I can grade the tests over the weekend and hand them back on Monday. I'm not always capable of grading tests overnight when the math test day comes earlier in the week.

The dress code for girls was drastically changed this year because they abused it so much last year. Only dress pants of tan or black non-denim, non-stretch, woven cloth with a collared and sleeved shirt tucked in. No camisoles showing, no layering of clothes, no open-toed footwear. On assembly dress days (i.e. church service days) only modest-length dresses or skirts with sleeved blouses plus nylons and dress shoes. Well, the clothing fight is on, so to speak. I talked with the dean of students regarding the slow movement off the code, and we agreed that I would warn the girls this week and write them up next week. Phil Gramm may have spoken about people complaining about the economy as "whiners", but these girls give whining a really bad name. Anyway, they've been warned .... as have the boys regarding their facial hair.

My "always use good manners" campaign in my classroom is working, so I currently have not started having problems with student behaviors except in my one class of 7 former students plus 4 new ones. My AP students, of whom I have had all before, are no problem because they are serious about their subject (serious geeks, you might say). One of my problem students had a note from his mother yesterday regarding her signing a required form for him. I do not doubt that she signed it, but where is it now. The student tells me that she gave it with his emergency forms to the front office. Since I had this student the prior 2 years in two other math subjects and since I still have my grade books from the same years, I think I'll look up whether he handed them in before or not. With 2 years experience of my expectations under his belt, he should have known to bring that form directly to me instead of having his mother hold it. Hmm. I'll add that to my to-do list for Monday.

The weekend is here, and it's time to relax.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New shoes, cozy feet!

I went out on Labor Day and bought some really great inexpensive supportive shoes in black that I had quit wearing a few years back because they look like "old lady" shoes when worn with dresses. Now, that I'm wearing mostly dress pants, they look great ... and they feel even better. I'm not going back to that other manufacturer for shoes again. The new shoes cradle my feet and feel so nice even after several hours of standing while teaching. It's good to be back with them.

I spent much of Tuesday when not teaching continuing to bring up my initial organization for the year. The only time that I taught in a middle school, I had taken over the classroom of a very organized teacher who put her own tabs in everything. I found her idea so compelling and time-saving for the year, that I always put tabs in my attendance and grade books. It takes time at the start, but it saves me hours for the remainder of the year. So now I have my books tabbed and marked, my September calendar set up with birthdays, etc. marked, and most of my organization work done. There's still contacting parents and finishing up my study of my students' learning styles to do, but I'm in good shape for today.

Back to the classroom for another exciting day!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I finally get a chance to sit down and relax!

The first week of classes is over. Hallelujah! My feet, especially my heels, were killing me all week long. I got a pair of supportive shoes that I found to be very good to my feet 2 years ago. When last year started I bought the same shoe style, and the support fell apart in less than a month. I went through the year with them anyway, but I never took the time to contact the manufacturer and complain. I thought what happened to them last year was a fluke, so I bought the same style again this year. The support is already breaking down. Thanks to my mother's late birthday present to me, I will be able to buy new shoes this weekend, and I will definitely not buy any made by that manufacturer!

The main problem with teaching is that I spend almost all of my day on my feet with not much movement around the room. Ouch! I have been doing a new set of exercises over the past 2 weeks that have helped, especially in my posture and balance, but the shoes are extremely important. If you ever wondered why middle-aged school teachers wear "old lady" shoes, it's because we have to keep up with much younger people even when our feet hurt.

Having a freshman homeroom is just as time-consuming as I figured it would be. I did save myself a lot of hassle with assigning seats before any of my students walked into my classroom. I also have my "Always use good manners in this classroom" sign up on the front wall where I can point it out any time one of my students start using bad manners. That is working out very well. Yea! It also helps me to wear more conservative business attire for teaching because I know from my past that I tend to behave in a more serious manner when I am dressed that way. It's like putting on a suit of armor before going out to joust.

I was on the move all day, every day, at the school last week. I really had little time to slow down with preparing 4 subjects for 6 class periods plus helping the other faculty with computer problems. Next week I will be showing a few educational DVDs which will give me a bit more time to fix stuff up while the students learn.

I didn't post on Monday because my feet really hurt and it was our 35th wedding anniversary. We went out to celebrate, and I went to bed when we returned. Tuesday, I took a nap, ate, exercised, and worked on lesson plans. Ditto for Wednesday and Thursday. Yesterday, I did all of the same except I did not exercise but I did stay up to see The Daily Show for their last DNC convention "coverage" as a result of a promise to my son.

With Monday being a holiday, I expect to be in better shape next week. I really want to keep this up on an almost daily basis because it's nice to vent and explain. It helps me, at least.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Last day before students return

Well, I got my classroom straightened up at least. I took the quick and dirty method with my desk and made about 2 piles of papers that still need to be handled, but the room looks neat.

After being nice last year to the building plant manager and starting out with tables instead of desks until the new desks arrived, I decided to start out rather harshly this year and assigned desks for every single class plus my homeroom. Due to the niceties of computer software, I cut and pasted the students' names from the online grading system to PowerPoint slides of my classroom setup. It took very little effort to do, and I will have my computer projection of each class' slide on the screen when the students come to class. By starting the year this way, my students will have the knowledge that I assign seats; I will accept no question on that!

As I noted before, this my first time in my teaching career of having a freshman homeroom. What this means is that the start of the year is heavy on teaching them the ways of our school. Tomorrow I have to take them to the Freshman Hall where their lockers are and help them figure out the locks. Then, back to my classroom where I cover everything else needed for today.

Also, I have had the teacher's edition of the stat book all summer, and I still haven't cracked it open to plan for the year. I borrowed the former teacher's syllabus and grading system, plus I did get a B.S. in statistics, so I am "okay" for the time being, but I really need to do some serious work today. At least I have the experience of knowing that most of my students will be tired all day because they didn't practice getting up early last week. On to work!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Teacher Workweek -- Days 4,5 ... and 6

I am writing this while waiting for the school to open on a Saturday so I can finish preparing for Monday. I spent so much time in meetings and helping the other teachers with software requirements and training that I had little time for my own stuff. Also, I did the almost fool thing of volunteering without being asked or suggested of coming to the new parent meeting Thursday night to train new parents on how to get to the homework pages and students' grades by way of the school's website. It went well, but I was exhausted when I got home, and I never did feel very awake all day Friday. I'm off to do what I can in the next 4 hours, then everything else I do in preparation will take place at home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teacher workweek - day 3

Successful day for my users/fellow teachers. Semi-successful day for me. I started bringing my syllabi up to the new official standards at 8 a.m., was caught by another teacher for help, and spent the remaining time available helping other teachers put their syllabi on their websites. Then to 2 hours of religious mini-retreat and serious reflection ... which was so good and definitely not a waste of anyone's time. Nice way to prepare for the school year.

After lunch I spent my remaining time training 2 new teachers on the homework website and helping several other teachers with their syllabi. I made it to my classroom once after I started helping other teachers early in the morning, and that was just to leave myself a copy of Thursday departmental meeting agenda. My syllabi are screaming for me, and I still have one more new teacher to train.

At least, I'm not bored.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Teacher workweek -- day 2

As usual the all-day meeting lasted longer than the principal had planned. We started at 10, but I was already initiating another new teacher into the mysterious ways of her homework website. (Read "the Force" for website, and you can understand why I am the Yoda of Math. ;-)) I think I have 2 more teachers to train.

Anyhow, everything that was needed to start out the year except for the learning support department (some of you would know it as "special education" or "exceptional children" department) was covered. I felt stupid on occasion because I said some things that the principal caught; one time it was an aside that he felt moved to address to the entire staff so that I didn't start an erroneous rumor. Ouch! Live and learn ... or, as I tell my students, that's why the adage says "to err is human". My own part went well excepting for the points at which I had to stop to remember the words I needed to use. Being a visual and tactile thinker, I can see the object in my head and shape the object with my hands, but I really must reach somewhere else in my brain for the vocabulary. No wonder I deal well with "exceptional children", i.e. children who think like me, not like other faculty.

Next up, a morning of faculty and staff religious reflection, lunch provided by the school, and an afternoon of preparing our classrooms which means more training of new teachers for me. All this training is the very reason that I wanted to get my classroom in shape before this week. Sometimes real life just messes up our plans.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Teacher Workweek -- Day 1

We started out with OSHA training on blood-born pathogens, followed by anaphylactic (spelling?) shock and use of the EpiPen at 10 this morning. Yes, there was CPR training, but since I do not coach athletics nor teach P.E. I got to forgo it. Back home early for lunch, then off to the high school ...

... where I found that my furniture had been put back in place, but all my electronics had been unplugged and the cables were just stacked in a big mess beside my computer. I spent much of the afternoon sorting out the mess and plugging things back where they belonged whilst finally putting labels on the ends of the cables so that I don't spend much time this year trying to figure out which cable is which. I also hooked in my phone and a few other teachers' phones. In other words, every classroom had the same situation that mine had: unplugged electronics with the cables just piled up in a mess. My son is spending the rest of the week at the school helping the technology coordinator fix the classroom electronics messes plus anything else technology-oriented needed. The faculty is so happy to know that he's coming because they really like him and his work.

Meantime, I met several of our new teachers and talked with them about getting together with me to learn how to use our homework web pages. I did teach one person last week, and I taught another today, so I have about 3 left to go. The biggest problem of doing this is the level of computer use competency of the individual teacher. For example, today's teacher used to work on computer databases, so I just needed to do a little bit of showing him around and giving him some advice, and he was good to go. Unfortunately, I know that not all of them will be that easy. I originally planned to get the new teachers up to speed today, but I did not count on a "hardware failure", i.e. the electronic messes in all the classrooms.

Tomorrow is a full day of the annual full faculty and staff meeting. I get to do my bit on the homework web pages and the computer lab sign-up sheets at the end of the meeting. I wonder how many people will still be attentive and functioning after all those hours?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It all starts again tomorrow!

Today ends my summer vacation. I went to 2 office supply teacher appreciation events yesterday and picked up some stuff for my classroom. While waiting in line for the first store to open another teacher and I were lamenting the end of freedom for another year. Then a teacher behind us said that she could not wait for school to start up again because her father died at the beginning of summer break which made it a bad time for her. Sometimes reality sucks.

I planned to go to the school on Friday, but I ended up donating blood instead. I had wanted to see if my room was finally put back together because I have not had access to my computer nor my bookshelves due to painting and working on the carpet. I still have so much to do to get ready. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everything is in place when I return there tomorrow afternoon.

The faculty and staff must be at an OSHA training session in a building near my home tomorrow morning so I will not waste gas to go to the school until after lunch. Our principal has this thing about wearing "business casual" whenever we are at some inservice, etc. situation involving other schools, but I plan to wear jeans and a shirt because OSHA training sometimes requires CPR practice and the like. Besides, the principal has not put out his usual warning of his dress expectations. I've already checked my school email for the day, so he's out of luck if he thinks I'll check it again before tomorrow. "My mama never raised no fools!"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Last week of "freedom"

I have been busy getting ready for next week when the faculty and staff prepare for the students returning on August 25. Up north many schools do not start before Labor Day, but down here, people have trouble keeping the public schools from starting earlier, like early August which happened for a few years here. I guess that's why we have state legislatures, to insure that the public schools, which the private schools follow, have sane school calendars. Although it would be nice to be an 11-month employee rather than a 10-month employee, both public and private schools could not afford the increase in teacher pay. Reality check, folks.

My husband claims that I'm an overachiever, which may be true, but I need to have a sense of accomplishment and readiness when summer break is over. So, I finished the 2 items of clothing I made, I am hemming my new dress pants, and I am cleaning out my closet and drawers of no-longer-worn clothes to give to charity. Plus I was at the school yesterday to work on my classroom and train any new teachers available on their homework web pages. (One down, 5 or so to go.)

This year will be better, though, since I dropped the department chairmanship. I still don't know if the principal convinced anyone into the slot, but it's not my problem anymore. I just need to work on my teaching, the school's instructional technology, and the junior class (I'm their moderator ... and why are we called "moderators" rather than "sponsors" in our school?). I may actually be able to work on decreasing my weight and my cholesterol this year! That would definitely make my doctor happy.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I found myself with a cooler day and a desire to update my profile. It started out with explaining where I got the name "the Yoda of Math" and went on from there. I will admit that it was a little cheap of me to use a picture of me walking through the woods from the back, but I was tired of not having a picture and I liked that one.

I am currently involved in one problem with not having air conditioning. Not only is it hard to deal with the 95+ degrees Fahrenheit, but mosquitoes will find a way into the house. My husband doesn't care because they do not like him, but they see me and think "dinner time, ladies!". We really don't have that much space for them to get in, but it is enough to add irritation to my life. I guess one must always have something about which to complain. Now, back to my sewing!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

No chairman yet.

I spoke with my principal yesterday. Our choice for the math dept. chairman said "no", so he tells me that it's just not settled yet. Ha! Although I am not longer receiving the chairman stipend in my pay, he and the guidance department are still calling upon me to help. To paraphrase LB Johnson, I will not seek the chairmanship, nor, if asked, will I take it. I really need to concentrate on other school issues like the state of computer science classes, currently electives, in my high school and state plus other technology concerns for the faculty (I need to do something with my masters and my specialized license.). I'll be at the school tomorrow for a few hours, and I'll talk with the principal more then. It's really his problem, but the department suffers when the leadership is not there.

I did work on my shirt more yesterday while watching the History channel's 3-hour show on China's first emperor. I did not realize that it would end at midnight, but it was worth the time. During the school year I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 and get up between 5:15 and 5:45, so even in the summer I am not inclined to be awake past 11 at night. I made some serious inroads on the shirt, so I am up to the sleeves. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, but it can be satisfying. I'd love to get that idea into the brains of my students, but it is difficult.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Three weeks to classes

I am cooling off in front of a fan after doing my almost-daily morning walk. The hardest part of the walk is getting myself started. It's one of those "I don't want to, I don't have to, and you can't make me" moments. I experience all the benefits of regular exercise so I really have no excuse. I just do not want to walk. I do like to dance, so that would be easier for me, but my husband likes dances only on occasion. Ah, well. That's one of the prices of a successful marriage.

I did some sewing between breakfast and walking, so my shirt is taking shape. One thing I like is going on the fire escape landing outside my sewing room. It's cool, shaded, and has one of the best views around. I think I need to fix it up more as a small balcony because it's such a great space. What this has to do with sewing is the fact that I sat at the top of the fire escape stairs whenever I had to pin pieces of fabric together. It made for a pleasant experience.

I've already received an email from my principal about a trial offer of some math software and videos on the internet for the fall. I thought that I ceded the position of math department chair. Maybe the person he asked said "no", or maybe he hasn't asked anyone else yet. I march on to the new school year slowly but surely.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tax-free weekend

Today I went to the local big-box store to buy clothes since it is the start of the state's tax-free weekend in anticipation of school starting. I hate to admit that most of what I bought was made in China, but it was. For about $150 I ended up with 3 blazers, 3 pairs of pants, and 1 pair of shoes. Why spend the money when I can sew? Because I am changing my clothing style for teaching slowly. Although I love wearing jumpers with blouses for comfort, I need to change out from wearing nylons. I expect the price of nylons to jump sometime soon even at the outlet store where I buy mine. Besides, I hate to shave my legs, and nylons require leg shaving.

I am in the midst of working on a white button-down shirt. If there is one thing that either costs too much in my view or is not made the way I like it, it is the button-down oxford-style shirt for women. I like full-length sleeves, a cotton or silk woven fabric, no stretch in said fabric, and a nice fit that doesn't make me feel squeezed into it. Big box stores do not seem to have that, and the thrift stores run out of them quickly. Mall stores and the like are out of my financial reach since I teach at a non-public school where the pay is thousands less than in the public schools. When was the last time you heard of a K-12 teacher making a six-figure salary, let alone more than $50,000 per year. The latter is coming quickly, though, due to inflation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

School Dreams

I can tell that I have the next school year on the brain because I am having nightly teaching dreams. Although I am doing preparation school work every day, I have a sense that it will not be enough to make a smooth start. Two main reasons for this: (1) I will have a freshman homeroom, and I have never had a freshman homeroom in 14 years of teaching; and (2) I am teaching a new subject, Honors Probability and Statistics. Since my first BS is in statistics, I can teach the subject in my sleep, so to speak, but I still need to create a pacing guide and a general walk-through for myself. Ah, at least I no longer have the time constraints of the department chairmanship. I can do this.

I've been trying to get out almost daily to walk for an hour or so, but today I woke up too late to avoid the summer's heat. I think I'll go to the local big mall and walk there while checking out the fall fashions. The funny thing is the fact that due to a small salary, this will be the first time I will be at said mall in over a year. The stores are too expensive for me and my family. It will be a nice change of pace walk, though, especially with the air conditioning. (Maybe that's why Barak Obama does not sweat when he works out in front of reporters: air conditioning?)

I still have my muslin shirt waiting for me to cut the interfacing and sew. The pattern calls it the "3 hour shirt", but the package notes that the time approximation does not include pinning and cutting the fabric. It is a rather quick-to-sew pattern, and it's one of my favorites, so I figure just a little bit of time on it. Today, maybe? Then I can move on to checking out the thrift stores for jackets and dress pants to get for teaching. I don't have enough time left to do any serious clothing sewing after the shirt because I have other obligations awaiting my attention.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What a difference 2 days can make!

We finally had rain ... severe thunderstorms ... wind ... rain ... lightening strikes ... rain ... and so on ... We are now on the other side of the isobar, and it is much, much cooler. There goes my sewing days for a while, but I did finish repairing our favorite comforter last night. (Our cat just came in, damp from outside. I wonder under what did she walk to get her fur so damp?)

I went to the school yesterday and discovered that my AP computer science students from last year did not pass the AP exam. Ouch! Teaching coding and concepts is the easy part. I've had trouble teaching the logic of certain structures that I find easy to understand myself; hence, the trip to the computer science workshop early this month. I needed someone else's eye to help me see what I could not. I have some great activities to center my students on the logic and structures. Also, they will be required to spend at least 3 extra hours a week in the computer lab outside of class. Plus they will be taking progressively harder practice exams every Friday. I intend to ram the learning down their throats, even if they really don't want it. After all, they chose to take the AP class, and they cannot drop it after the first week due to school policy.

This morning before and after my daily walk I will be working on something new to me: Alice programming language/system/?. I think I can use it to get the idea of object-oriented coding more entrenched into my AP students, plus I have an idea of how I can use it to create an animation to use in my math classes to entice more students into computer science for the following year. I just need to learn how to use it better. Of course, I still have the shirt waiting to be pinned and cut out, but that can hold off until later today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sewing Days

We may be close to "dog days", but I call them sewing days for me. We have no air conditioning in our house, so when the heat goes over 94 degrees Fahrenheit, one can only do so much and that much cannot involve a lot of movement. Hence, I get the urge to sew.

I got my muslin out and ironed it last night in front of a large fan. It's hanging on the banister waiting to be pinned and cut out. I found my favorite shirt pattern, so now I'm ready to take both to the dining table and begin. I'll probably get to it tonight with fans going strong. I also found the muslin dress I made as a try-on for my daughter's wedding gown (I made said gown, too.) 3 years ago. I tore the seams out, and I'm now using it to patch the back of our favorite comforter. "Wash it, fix it, wear it out. Make it last or do without." Those WW II people knew of which they were speaking.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Successful Thursday, lazy Friday

In the afternoon on Thursday, I replaced the screen on the fire escape screen door. Getting the trim off was not as hard as my husband expected; the fact that I did it and not he contributed to his opinion, of course. As I expected there was no spline keeping the original screen in place, so I felt confident that I didn't need any either. It took a while to get all the nails and brads out. Then my husband helped me start to put up the new screening, minus spline as explained above. While I was standing on the ladder, I found that I could easily touch the overhang on the eaves, so I measured it: the overhang on our eaves is just a tad over 25 inches. No wonder gutter people shudder when they look at our house.

Back to the screening ... I used a marking roller from my sewing supplies to push the screening into what grooves there were. There were not grooves across all of the wood. Did I mention that this was an old wooden screen door? I stapled gunned the heck out of it. That screen ain't going nowhere anytime soon. I trimmed the excess with one of my new utility knives. Lastly, for me, I replaced the trim; I think my dad would probably have gotten new trim, but I'm not that perfect in my home rehabbing skills ... yet. My husband painted over the trim after dark. I think everyone should paint after dark, it's so hard to tell how the new paint makes you realize that the whole door needs painted. It is nice, though. My sewing room is getting a friendlier, homier feeling as I continue to fix it up, and this just adds to the charm. Now, I need to work on making the fire escape landing look and feel like a balcony. Hmm. Next summer.

I did finish making my jumper that night by sewing the hem. One new jumper for the fall. Next to make is a tailored shirt. I can never have too many of them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home ... Work

I watch a lot of home repair/decorate/build/buy/etc. shows summer and winter. They help me get energized on fixing up our 93 year old historic home. (No, I refuse to get on the National List of Historic Places or whatever because I would not be allowed to do some of the things that I want to do, but I live in a historic district in one of the homes that makes it historic.) One thing that I've really gotten from those shows is the fact that so many home owners plan to do some repair work when they get around to it, but they don't get around to it until they are ready to sell. I do not want to be one of those people! Anyhow, today I will be working on the screen door to the fire escape. Did I mention that our house had been split into 2 apartments when we bought it and that we made it back into a single family dwelling?

One really nice perk of teaching is the ability to do stuff in the summer and save money plus add to one's repertoire of skills by working on one's home oneself. My husband thinks that some things cannot be done by us because he cannot do it, but he is the one who was sure that I broke our washing machine 30+ years ago when he came home to find I had taken it apart to fix it. I fixed it and put it back together before he finished his nap that day. I have spent the past year learning how to replace the screening, and it looks rather simple in concept. Of course, reality will be a different thing, but I am up to the challenge. Besides, I really don't like the "quick and dirty" repair he did years ago on it. I can do this.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer Preparation

What is it about teachers that we spend part of our unpaid summer "vacation" preparing for the next school year? I understand that I am teaching a new-to-me subject, so I need to do some serious prep work, but I ran into the Latin teacher today when I dropped in at the high school, and she was creating new tests, worksheets, etc. for new textbooks. I sometimes wonder why we don't just require that we will never teach new subjects nor use new textbooks in our situations; it would certainly make the summer freer for us. Oh, well. I just need to keep in mind that time spent well now means more free time outside of school in the next year.

I've been finishing up my jumper, but I ended up doing more hand stitching than the pattern suggests. I find that as I get older, I want things done better. Maybe my father was right: "Good enough never is."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Teacher Time Saved

On Friday I had my annual physical. I make sure that I get physicals, medical tests, etc. taken care of in the summer because it is such a hassle taking time off school as far as using a substitute goes. Since I teach math, there are very few substitutes I can get who can actually teach a lesson, so I have to create generic lesson plans that usually involve a lot of worksheets. I find that to be such a waste of teachable time. So much for the idea of teachers being out whenever they feel like it. Maybe I should have taken on history or some such subject. ;-)

I've been catching up on newspapers; I'm currently in the middle of March. I find it so amusing that politicians and others put the onus of students' learning on the teachers exclusively. It's like putting the dental health of patients entirely on the dentists' shoulders and ditto for doctors. As long as we have a cultural view that it is okay for students to do badly in science and math, we will never have major success in those areas across the board. Of course, we do have a president who takes pride in being a "C" student. That man shows me just what value a Harvard MBA does not have. End of sermon. I have some sewing to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

3 Day Workshop

I came back Thursday evening from a 3-day workshop. Here are my notes that I kept whilst at the said workshop.

July 8, 2008

Here I sit in a college dorm in the Old South, taking part in an honored teacher summer tradition: the educational workshop/conference. This one has to do with teaching computer science, but, frankly, they all have a certain sameness to them. They take place in a college or university, the food is college institutional fare, each participant has his/her own dorm room with a shared bathroom, the dorm furniture looks like it comes from the same catalog. The main differences are in the subjects and the qualities of the workshops/conferences. The strange thing to me is the fact that I did not live in a dorm when I was in college, but now I seem to spend part of most summers living in one.

I write this on the laptop I borrowed from my high school for this workshop. I feel I should use it since I lugged it around all afternoon with me. (That’s the last time I’ll borrow a laptop without a shoulder strap!) I had asked prior to this workshop if I needed to bring a laptop, and the workshop contact said it was a good idea. Good idea, my foot! Since I have no wi-fi card on this machine, I cannot use it to connect to the internet. Next time, I will be leery of computer science workshops where the college is not supplying access in a lab. Other than that glitch, I am really enjoying this workshop which means that I am actually learning some new stuff that I can use in my teaching.

I spoke to my husband on our cell phone. We bought a “no-name” cell phone when we visited my mother during Easter break this spring because the hotel was having trouble with their new phone system. I do like the fact that I could tell him that I arrived safely when I got here today. That has always been a problem for me, even when I worked in private industry before the days of cell phones. My computer science students have always found it amazing that their CS teacher would not own a cell phone. I guess we finally made it to the 21st century now. Off to a shower and then a book. One nice trait about said cell phone: I programmed it to be my alarm clock for the night. Now, that is very useful add-on.

July 9, 2008

There is a major plus for me at this workshop: I am actually spending time outside of the workshop with others in the same workshop. I’ve usually ended up sharing a dorm apartment with others in different workshops – not a good thing for a world-class introvert like me. This eating, sleeping, etc. with people I see all day does help me keep from feeling isolated in the evenings. I have to remember that when I fill out my evaluation tomorrow.I got a lot more useful ideas today. My only fear is the fact that I tend to be very enthused when I leave these workshops and overplan what I can do during the school year. Now, planning too much on its own is not a bad thing, but in my zeal I do not do any of those new things well. I hope that I will remember to choose just a few new things for this year and plan them very well so that I have good successes instead of mediocre successes due to little planning.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Working on

I am slowly coming out of a combination sinus headache/migraine. Yesterday was all sinus headache due to allergies, and I guess it kicked off a migraine which started last night. I am currently working my way out of it now. What really irks me is that I cannot go walking with a bad headache. In fact, I can do little with one. I started sewing up a jumper that I had cut out this past school year, but I only got so far yesterday. I hope to feel up to finishing it today. I really hate headaches!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Daze

5 a.m. comes, I awake and decide to stay awake since next week I will have to get up early to drive to Charlottesville, Virginia. Cat is happy because she can go out and check out everything in the dark. I'm trying to set up a decent summer schedule for myself; if I don't, I feel like I have wasted my time off when school starts up again. Does anyone remember how nice it was to waste summer vacation doing absolutely nothing useful except for one's chores? I do, but I'm middle-aged now, and I have a great desire to continue moving in a positive direction.

Well, I go for a walk on the greenway. I like to walk. I get to stretch my legs, meet people moving one way or another, check out nature and architecture, and, most of all, think! I remember one time a male teacher asking me what did women like to do most of all. My answer: women like to think. That was not the answer he expected; he believed that women liked to shop. Obviously, he never noticed that I did almost no shopping. My favorite stores are home centers and fabric stores, i.e. places where I can think and dream plus walk.

After coming home, time for a quick bath in my decades-old claw-foot tub with window open bringing in light, sound, and the smell of summer. One thing about having no air conditioning in my house, I am reminded of summer visits to my grandmother every time a breeze comes through the mosquito netting. I love it, love it, love it!

On to my one hour or more of school work. I drove to the school this morning and took care of several things in about 3 hours, including a few I almost forgot. I laminated my new calendar system for the fall. Although I very strongly believe in the separation of church and state, I feel that people in the public schools have become too paranoid since my new perpetual calendar has no Christmas, Hannukah, Easter, Kwanzaa, etc. placards. At least I have all those from my old calendar, and I will use them with my new calendar.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cheap Traveling

I have been out for about 2 weeks because my husband and I were camping up north while visiting my mother, other relatives, and some friends. We camp because we like it, but it doesn't hurt that it is cheap, especially since my husband gets the senior citizen discount of 10% off the cost. Actually, the hard work of camping is setting up and taking down our campsite. The rest of the time is pretty easy, and we can slow down so quickly.

No television? No problem. I read Truth plus jokes by Al Franken, 2006, and Rome Wasn't Burnt in One Day by Joe Scarborough, 2004. I find it interesting to see what others say about our political history when it is still rather recent. Aside: Franken's book was not as good as his book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. I also read a few of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer mysteries. In the way of e-books, since we have a tent ... on the ground ... with air mattresses and sleeping bags, I read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Boroughs, Othello by William Shakespeare, and I started The Republic by Plato. It's much easier to read an e-book in a tent than reading a bound book by flashlight. I did not take any school stuff with me because I know that I will never touch it and that it will wear on my brain.

While we were visiting my mother, I worked on the tablecloth that I am embroidering for my daughter and son-in-law. Note to self: never again agree to embroider anything with so many satin stitches in it. It looks more beautiful as I finish each section, but it takes hours to do! Being a person who needs to move while talking, etc., I find knitting, stitching, working crosswords, etc. helps me center on the conversation. Okay. I do not listen so well when I work crosswords, but the rest is true. I wonder if I would have been labelled ADD when I was a student if I were in school now.