Wednesday, August 25, 2010

After-School Visitors

I love my students this year.  Really, I do.  They listen well, they work hard, and they are starting to display their personalities and senses of humor, which sometimes takes students a while to do.  Now that we are past all the early out days, guidance counselor presentations, media center orientations, and yearly pre-tests, we are finally getting settled into a routine.

Except for the fire drills that will happen both tomorrow and Friday.  Those will throw off the schedule a bit.  But other than those, we're pretty much settling into "normal."

Besides the daily happenings of my language arts blocks, my favorite part of my day has become the time after the 2:58 bell rings.  No, not because my work day is over.  Trust me, I never leave the building early.  I pretty much run a 7-5 schedule.  And there is almost always work to be done after-hours.

Anyway, I love the time after the bell rings because of the surprise visitors we get.  Every day there have been numerous seventh graders come down to say hello.  It absolutely makes my day when they come back to fill us in on all that is happening in 7th grade.  I really loved my students last year, and I really miss them.  And I'd like to think that them coming down to visit means they miss us a little bit, too.

It's been kind of surprising to see the kids who come back.  Some are the kids that I had expected (and hoped) would come.  Others have surprised me.  It's funny how some of the most frequent visitors are the kids you think slipped by you... kids who you weren't able to reach.  I'd like to think that them visiting us means that we meant something to them or did something for them.  At least I hope so.

I'm sure that as the year goes on, the visits will become less and less frequent as they get more comfortable with their new teachers.  I'm sure that if I want to catch up with them and see how they are doing, I will need to be the one to make the effort.  But for now, I'm going to continue to look forward to 2:58, when we are visited by the fruits of our labor.  It is a time that I truly treasure.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Specialization: From Then to Now

Last year, every teacher in 6th grade taught a two-hour block of language arts, a one-hour block of math, and two 45-minute sections of either science or social studies.  Because we were a new school, we didn't receive our curriculum until a few days before school started, so we spent the entire year trying to figure out what we were teaching and how we were going to teach it.

It was absolutely overwhelming.

In the first month of school last year, I was at school past 8:00 most days, and I always took work home with me.  I did everything I knew how to do so that my students wouldn't suffer because I wasn't given curriculum in time or because I was a first-year teacher who didn't know the science curriculum at all.

On top of that, I felt immense pressure to "teach to the tests." Our state finally gave in and implemented statewide accountability testing.  Reading went high-stakes last year, and we piloted math, which will go high-stakes this year.  Over the next few years, science and social studies will follow suit.  Meanwhile, we still had our district CRTs to give.  Unfortunately, some really good lessons were sacrificed for the sake of NeSA review.  I couldn't help but think about how much more could have been taught and learned if only we didn't have to schedule in so much time for test reviews and the tests themselves.

All things considered, I think the year went OK.

Was I a perfect teacher?
Absolutely not.

Did I use multiple learning modalities in every lesson?
No way.

Was there more that I could have done to make the learning more fun?

I'm sorry, dear 7th graders, if you feel in any way gyped of a high-quality 6th grade learning experience.  I assure you, I taught you everything the district told me I needed to.  And I promise you that I gave you my very best effort.  And I tried to make sure that we laughed and had some fun each day, as well.  I hope you can understand just how much work it takes to get everything done.

My students last year were so kind to me.  They were patient, they called me out when I made a mistake, and they were such a great group of students who made me look forward to every single day.

I didn't deserve them.

Fast-forward to this year:

This year, we made some really awesome, really big changes.  Among those was the decision to "departmentalize" or "specialize" within our 6th grade team.  I am fortunate to be able to two blocks of language arts, which I feel is my strength.  Because of the "specialized" schedule, the language arts block gained 14 minutes of precious time.

I had big visions and high hopes for all that the extra 14 minutes would allow me to do.  I regret to inform you that my plan book is filled with arrows leading from one day to the next.  Apparently, I was a teensy bit ambitious in making my lesson plans.

Although I am stressed about not having enough time to fit everything in, this year is so much less stressful because I am only planning for one subject area.  It is such a relief to be able to really think about the best ways to teach and to put my time, energy, and effort into more focused and thoughtful planning and reflection.  It feels so great to walk into my classroom every day feeling prepared and confident in the fact that the lessons were well-crafted.

We teachers work in a profession where there is always something more that we could be doing.  I still stay at school late and bring work home, but i am so thankful to be working on only one subject area.  It is much easier on me, and I believe that our students are benefiting ten-fold by having teachers who are less stressed and more thoughtful in the lesson planning.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Day of School: By the Numbers

0:  The amount of extra time we had in our classes to do "get-to-know-you" kinds of things.

5:32:  The time my alarm went off for the first time this morning.

6:  The level of pain, on a scale of 1-10, that I am currently experiencing in my feet and lower back.  Summers make teachers out of shape.

8:  The number of minutes late I was to my first period class due to helping students with locker combination issues.

10:20:  The time my class was assigned to eat lunch on these shortened days.  At that time, many restaurants are still serving breakfast.

12:  The number of last year's 6th graders who sought me out to say hello.

13:  The approximate number of times I wondered about how last year's 6th graders are fairing in 7th grade.

14:  The number of students I helped find their classrooms when I saw them wandering around aimlessly.

20:  The number of students in my first Language Arts class.

25:  The number of students in my second Language Arts class.

32:  The number of minutes I stayed in bed after my alarm went off.

75:  The number of minutes after school I stayed past our contract time.  That's with no planning and no grading to do.

1,416,397ish: The number of padlocks I had to help open.  Or so it seemed.

All things considered, it was a pretty great day!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Twas the Night Before School

'Twas the night before school
And all through the halls,
All the teachers were stirring
And decorating the walls.

Summer has quickly come and gone,
We had our time in the sun.
Now, a new school year is starting
And we have to get things done.

Open House was on Thursday,
All of our new students came
Although they will be wonderful,
Things won't quite be the same.

We talked with all our students,
And put their worries at ease,
Assuring them that with hard work,
6th grade will be a breeze.

Today began our crunch time,
There was so much to do.
But with meeting after meeting,
The to-do lists only grew.

Cutting out lamination,
Labeling everything in sight
Spending hours upon hours
Making everything look just right.

Planning, stapling, and moving,
Making everything look nice,
Asking others for input,
Kind words, or some advice.

We're making some big changes,
Cooperative learning, to name one
In everything we do and learn,
We want students to have fun.

And so we go on planning,
with students' best interests in mind
But we can't help feeling
That feeling of being behind.

4:00 came too quickly,
Many teachers were long gone.
Not my team, however...
8:00, and still going strong.

We're so thankful for the team we have,
Willing to work past the "end" of the day,
Helping out each other,
Making working seem more like play.

And now, it's time to go to bed
We've done all we could do.
Tomorrow is the start of a new school year,
May it be wonderful for all of you!

"A Hard Day's Work"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to Spend the Last Weekend of Summer

1.  Go to the BBQ that your principal has so kindly agreed to host.

2.  Enjoy an animated storytelling experience.

3.  When you get back to town, take advantage of Kohl's extended shopping hours.

4.  Escort your friends' daughter around the store, allowing her to pick up anything she wants off of the shelves.  After all, you are not the one who ultimately has to tell her "no."

5.  Take pictures as your friends try on the most awful pairs of shoes in the store.

6.  Enjoy the husband's reaction when he is asked which of the pairs of shoes he would prefer that his wife purchase.

7.  Teach a two-year-old the thrill of shoe shopping.

8.  Allow for one more pair to be tried on.

9.  Pat yourself on the back for walking out of the store empty-handed.

10.  Go to bed.  It's been a long day.

1.  Sleep in past noon.
2.  Make yourself some lunch.

3.  Lay down on the couch and take a four-hour nap.

4.  Wake up with the intention of going to do some work at school.

5.  Remember that you promised yourself you wouldn't go to school over the weekend.  Instead, watch a good Lifetime movie or two.

6.  Agree to get dressed and go with some friends for a late-night dinner at Village Inn.

7.  Splurge for a piece of pie.

8.  Rent a movie and watch it with friends.

9.  Force yourself to go to bed, even though you slept for 16 out of the last 24 hours.

1.  Go to church.  Pray for strength that will carry you through the weeks ahead.

2.  Go to Omaha for a meeting.  Resist every urge to go to the Teacher Store.

3.  Bake some banana bread for your co-workers.  And some cookies for yourself.

4.  Ignore all the regrets you have for not cleaning, doing laundry, or working on school-related things over the weekend.  Enjoy laying on the couch and watching Remember the Titans.

5.  Set alarms for 6:00 and go to bed early.  You're going to need your rest, because ready or not, the kids are coming this week.

And that, my friends, is the perfect weekend with which to end summer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

State of the Classrooms

It's crunch time.  Tomorrow, we have meetings from 8:00-3:30, and our 6th grade open house begins at 4:00.  Students and their families will be in our classrooms, so today was the last day we had to get them in presentable shape.  For the record, I walked out of the building tonight at 9:35, just before heading to Wal-Mart to buy some last-minute supplies.

We had meetings this morning, but we had the afternoon free to work in our classrooms.  At the beginning of our work time, our classrooms looked like this:

Tiffany's Room

Barbara's Room

Taylor's Classroom:

My Classroom:

Remember the non-existent word wall I mentioned yesterday?

Still non-existent.  But rest assured, I stayed at school until 9:30 tonight in attempt to have something on that wall for tomorrow.

I have been way a teensy bit stressed out about the state of my classroom.  It's nowhere near where I want it to be.  Thankfully, I have one co-worker whose room makes me feel good about my progress.

Steph's Classroom:

As of noon today, it had hardly been touched.

We spent much of today's work time doing things like:

Cutting out lamination:

Working on lesson plans:

And posing for pictures:

It was a long, exhausting, busy day, but good progress was made.

Lest any of you are still thinking that Steph is a slacker for having done nothing to her room, I shall show you the condition it was in when I left at 9:30:

As you can see, Steph works quickly.

In closing, a celebration:  Today's 'Person of the Day' award goes to Mrs. Cownie for hanging out and helping all of us out tonight.

(Applause, please)

We owe you big time, Am!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Help Wanted

S/W/F teacher seeks to fill the following short-term, seasonal positions.  Interested applicants should submit a résumé, cover letter, and references, none of which will be read in-depth because of time shortages.  There is no salary and are no medical, dental, vision, or insurance benefits associated with these positions due to budgetary restrictions.  Baked goods and/or other fringe benefits will be discussed upon hire.  I am an equal opportunity employer. 

Creative Wall Director
Ideal applicants should have a creative vision for how to design a large word wall, which must include many colors and readable fonts.  All wall hangings must be straight.  Careless, crooked stapling will result in the loss of this position and all benefits.

Copyroom Assistant
This position involves standing at copy machine and scanning documents to be sent to our district's print center.  Experience working with MFDs is preferred, but not required.  Ideal candidates are detail-oriented, organized, and skilled at fixing paper jams.

Meeting Proxy
This position involves attending all required team, committee, and school-wide meetings and taking legible, detailed notes.  The meeting proxy will actively listen and participate in each meeting and will be responsible for typing and submitting a detailed summary of what happened at each meeting.

Director of Labeling
This position involves typing, laminating, and affixing labels for everything in the classroom.  This person needs to be thorough in examining contents of cupboards and storage totes in order to properly ensure that all supplies can be easily found by reading said labels.  The ideal candidate is also proactive in labeling other things around the classroom that would help the students or the teacher to more efficiently locate whatever is needed.  Job responsibilities also include labeling binders with student names, numbering textbooks, and stamping all books and materials with the school stamp.

Bargain Hunter
This position involves traveling to stores all over town in order to find the best deal on school supplies.  Items include, but are not limited to, kleenex, notebooks, pencils, folders, binders, markers, construction paper, loose leaf paper, and hand sanitizer.  No money will be provided for these purchases, so an interested applicant should be either overly generous with his or her personal pocketbook or resourceful in acquiring these supplies.  This position requires general competency in filling out donation request forms and interpersonal skills for begging store managers for mercy negotiating supply donations.

Curriculum Director
Interested applicants should have previous experience in planning lessons for middle level students.  A Bachelor's Degree in Education is the minimum requirement for this position.  Applicant will plan for the first eight (8) days of school, being sure to include plenty of icebreakers and name games.  Ideal candidate is someone who is familiar with Bloom's taxonomy, is skilled in using a variety of learning modalities, is a good time manager, and a thorough planner.  The curriculum director will collaborate with other staff to make sure all necessary meetings and orientations, pre-assessments, and reviews of expectations are properly scheduled in.  For this eight-day period, the curriculum director will also need to locate or create all necessary formative and summative assessments that correspond with the daily lessons.

The application process for the aforementioned positions is ongoing, and interviews wil begin immediately.  Thank you in advance for your interest in helping this desperate, behind schedule, frazzled teacher.