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.