Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Break

I am so grateful to be teaching in a district that gives us one full week of Fall Break.

What did I do with my week off, you ask?

Well, sometimes, pictures speak louder than words:

And that stack wasn't even all that I graded.  This stack was completed in about two seven-hour days.  The other three days were spent grading other assessments (which, at this point, had already been filed away), entering report card grades, and completing lesson plans for life after "break."

So, somehow, I managed to put in a full work week on my "week off."  What will I do, pray tell, when our Fall Break gets reduced to only two days next year?

Such is the life of a teacher, I suppose.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Pumpkin Contest

The school at which I work has a social committee, which plans fun projects and activities for the staff in our building.  They do a great job, really.

This month, they invited each team of teachers in our building to decorate a pumpkin that would be on display in the trophy cases.

Today, students had the opportunity to vote for their favorite.  The prize for winning is yet-to-be-determined.  Here are the pumpkins.

A witch made by Kristy on Team 6B

A tourist pumpkin made by our Academic Connections teachers... check out all the details they included to represent each of them... the sombrero from Spanish, the Eiffel Tower from French, the spoons from FCS, the tool belt from IT, the crayon from Art, etc.

Team 7B's Chuck Norris pumpkin.  A lame attempt at decorating, if you ask me.

A Skyhawk pumpkin made by our office staff

A Husker pumpkin... I'm not sure who made it.

A scary clown pumpkin made by the custodial staff

Mr. Potato Pumpkin?  I'm not sure who made this one, either.

I don't know what this is supposed to be, and I don't know who made it.

Homer Simpson pumpkin made by my team.  Striking resemblance, don't you think?  We were pretty proud of our work, especially considering we completed it the day it was due and with only two plan periods to get it done. 

Students voted for their favorite today during lunch, and Amber and I supervised after school as some students helped to tally the votes.

Do you want to know who won?

Drum roll, please....

In some ways, I'm shocked that a pumpkin with a stapled-on black and white picture of Chuck Norris managed to win.  In other ways, I'm not surprised at all.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wedding Weekends

I have had no free weekends in a while.

Why, you ask?

Because of the wedding of my dear friends Ashley and Jeremy and all the events that came along with it.

First, there was a bachelorette party last Friday.  I would post pictures, but I don't have any.  I put my camera batteries in the charger on Friday morning and forgot to take them out of the charger before I left for Omaha on Friday evening.

I will tell you that we enjoyed good company and good fun.  Also, I stayed out way past my bedtime, which was not the best decision I've ever made considering I had class all day on Saturday.

After class on Saturday, I headed back up to Omaha for Ashley and Jeremy's couples' shower.  Mike and Casey Huff hosted the barbecue at their new house.  While Casey and Vanessa spent most of their day cooking, they decided to special order the dessert.

Eileen really knows how to make a good cookie!

After dinner, it was time to open presents!

At first, Jeremy didn't really seem into it.  He was more concerned with checking college football scores than opening gifts:

He eventually got more into it...

In fact, he got so into it that he spilled a drink on Ashley:

He even found time to be a little bit silly:

So, although it was a great Saturday, it was another late night followed by another class on Sunday.

Fast-forward to this weekend.

On Friday, we had the rehearsal with a dinner to follow. 

After the rehearsal dinner, we went to Brewsky's so that we could continue hanging out.  While most people just hung out at a table and watched some football, Ben and Tara played a shooting game in the game room.

This picture is only funny to me because these are two of the most non-threatening, wouldn't-harm-a-fly-kind-of-people that I know.

The Big Day

On Saturday morning, our day started with 9:00 hair appointments:

Then, it was time to get ready:

It took a lot of people to help get Ashley ready.  We bridesmaids didn't want to get too much in the way, so we stood by in case we were needed:

Throughout this wedding-planning process, I have fallen in love with Ashley's nieces and nephew, who were there to provide some comic relief throughout the day.  Meet Maguire, the ring bearer.
He is stinkin' cute, but definitely a handful!

Once Ashley was ready to go, we left the church to go to a nearby park to get our pictures taken.

Although we were behind schedule, once pictures were finished, we headed back to the church to relax a bit as the guests arrived.

The ceremony went really smoothly.  Not only was it beautifully planned and executed, but nearly all of Ashley and Jeremy's closest friends and family memebers were there to celebrate in their special day.
My beautiful bouquet!

Afterward, we went to grab a quick drink before heading to the reception.
Mr. and Mrs. Sevick!

The reception was a blast!

I wish I would've taken more pictures, but I was too busy eating and dancing.

At the end of the night, we watched as Mr. and Mrs. Sevick drove away...

Ashley and Jeremy, I love you both very much, and I was honored to be a part of your special day!  Here's wishing two of my very best friends a lifetime full of love and happiness!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NeSA Schmesa

I completely understand that I, as a teacher, should be accountable for learning in my classroom.

I'm fine with that.

It's what I signed up for.

The instrument used to measure the achievement of my students, however, is questionable in terms of its validity.

This week, we got a new student on our team who inspired my team leader to question our state's Education Commissioner:

Dear Dr. Breed,

A new student started in my math class last Thursday at [Our] Middle School in [Our Town]. Her name is (name removed for privacy reasons). She moved to [Our Town] from Iraq and speaks no English. She also does not understand English nor does she read English. She is in math and ELL 1 classes. She is a lovely, scared young woman who had to go home her first day because she couldn't handle the school situation. I have been told that because she is new to the country and does not speak English, she will not have to take the NeSA reading this year. However, I have also been told that she will have to take the NeSA math test. My understanding is that the NeSA math test has many word problems. I, of course, have not seen the test. Our district is anticipating a heavy emphasis on word problems; but, of course, they haven't seen the test either. If any of this information is incorrect, please let me know. However, if it is correct, please explain to me how giving this test is in any way fair to this young woman or an accurate measure of what she knows in the field of math. I look forward to hearing from you.

Barbara Terwilliger
6th Grade Math Teacher

Here is the response that she received:

Barbara -
Thank you for sharing about your new student.  Your note is an example of reality hitting the NeSA test process and your question of fairness may be reasonable for a variety of similarly situated students throughout Nebraska.  Although the mathematics test includes word problems, the items have been built to measure math, not reading.  The item writers were instructed in that way and really do understand that the validity of the test must measure the right thing.

As to the fairness of the test to an individual student, this will vary with the myriad of circumstances that impact teachers and students.  I do not have a response for the fairness question except to say that the NeSA test is a valid, one-shot measure of learning regarding the state standards.  No more, no less.  Although [your student] is required to take the test, the test can be read to her per the administration practices found on page one of the accommodations guide.  I would advise you to consult the [district] central office to set up appropriate guidelines for test administration for this student.

Again, thank you for your note.  I hope you, [lovely, new Iraqi student] and all of your students have a productive and positive school year.
-R. Breed

I am tempted to send a follow-up e-mail asking Mr. Breed how, exactly, it will be beneficial to read the test out loud to a girl who understands no English.  Maybe if we speak slowly and loudly, she will understand some of it?

Something else that Mr. Breed doesn't know about our student is that there was a two-year span of her life when she didn't even go to school because of the war that was going on in Iraq.  So, not only does she not understand the language, but she has missed out on many basic skills with which other sixth graders come to us.

I am grateful that Barbara received a response from a man who, I'm sure, is very busy.  But I'm still not confident in the NeSA.  On the NeSA reading last year, my school did not meet AYP in the category of ELL students.  While students who have been in the country for less than a year are not required to take this test, I hardly think it's fair to test those who have been here for slightly over one year.

I guarantee you that if I moved to another country in which I understood not a word of their language, it would take me much more than a year to be reading and writing in that language at my grade level.

There is just no way.

Our ELL teachers and our classroom teachers are excellent.  But they are not miracle workers.

These students are often very bright, and I'm sure that if I was able to communicate with them in their native language that I would be blown away by what they know and can do.

And bless their hearts, they work their tails off in our school every day.

They put on a brave face on that first day of school when they literally don't speak one word of English and have nobody around who can understand them.  They put a friendly smile on their faces when a teacher or a peer speaks to them.  They nod their heads, pretending to understand, in attempt to show that they want to be there.  They are patient when we, their teachers, don't know how to explain something differently.

They listen.  They think.  They try.

So incredibly hard.

And yet, we shove a standardized test at them and we tell them that their hard work isn't good enough.  They are not proficient.  They are performing "below expectations."  They have failed.

Who is really failing here?

I would argue that it is not the students.