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!