Sunday, September 30, 2012

Being Green

Whew, things have been so busy! As is always the case with us teachers, I know. I've been logging many a Saturday hour trying to get my kitchens kid-ready. My first group has begun their "Food Unit" rotation, and as soon as we get through food & kitchen safety they'll get their first peek. Luckily it's a somewhat smaller class, so I can focus on four kitchens and let the other two go a bit longer until a larger class rotates in.

One thing that I found desperately necessary in this classroom was relining the kitchen drawers. Most of them are lined with contact paper which must be at least one, probably two, decades old. It's worn out and faded and grimy.

Of all places, Staples had just what I needed: neon, solid-colored contact paper. At my local store they carry yellow, blue, red, and green - four of the six colors I'll need.

Nothing fancy, just clear and obvious which kitchen you're in. Now I just need to find some orange and purple contact paper, and I'll be set!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dude, ummm...smbdy brok in2 ur crib

I tried a new lesson this week that went very well, so I thought I'd share. The topic this week was communication, and on the day in question we were focusing on verbal/nonverbal aspects (open your hymnals to FACS National Standard 13.3!). For this activity, each student first had to write down two pieces of news that would be really hard to have to deliver to someone. The examples I gave were "Your dog died, your uncle has cancer, you have to repeat 8th grade." They wrote each idea down on a card. Some examples they came up with: pregnancy, house robbery, stolen car, boyfriend/girlfriend cheating, parents getting divorced, failing math. I shuffled them up, then they each had to draw two cards. They read the cards, then had to write out a text message for each one as if they were telling a real person. I encouraged them to use real text-ese, with the stipulation that they could not use school-inappropriate language. I allowed them to work in groups to help each other, but they each had to complete their own. They really got into it! And of course the conversations they had in their groups captured the essence of the lesson: "Man, this is hard!" "This is AWKWARD!" etc, etc.

We posted several of them on the board so that everyone could read them. Then we had a large group discussion about the disadvantages of texting, which led into the point that body language, etc, is the crux of communication.

Note: this went along easier with my 8th grade students than the 7th grade students. It took the 7th graders much longer to make the connection between the texting activity and the importance of non-verbals, but they got there eventually.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Out with old.... wha?....

Yesterday was my first to begin going through cabinets and such in my classroom, in the hopes of gaining some sort of feeling of belonging. As any of you who have been through the process already know, taking over a room from a retiree is an overwhelming and time-consuming process. Since this is my fourth time taking over for a retiree I knew full well what to expect in terms of the time commitment (since I couldn't come in over the summer, it will probably take most of the school year to truly purge and settle), and also knew I'd probably find a few odd things. My previous experiences did not hold a candle to finds from this school. Take a look!

Slides, floppies, old worksheets, older radio... all very helpful.

This one isn't so unusual, I just enjoyed the irony.

No faculty handbook, but I found this lovely guide copyrighted 1961. I actually am interested in flipping through it.

Here's a goodie, all sorts of professional journals - from 1970. I love the technology update in the one above!

And who doesn't need a box of seamless stocking color samples from Fall of 1967 in their classroom?

Finally we have here an envelope with someone's "thumb-sucking" money in it, signed by the previous teacher. Wha???

This was all from one cabinet. Who knows what I'll find next?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New School vs Old


1. My beautiful, organized classrooms.
If you've been paying attention to my postings at all, you know that I have an obsession with an organized classroom. I am not anywhere near that ideal in my new school yet. The delay in getting into my room has really hurt that endeavor. When I did get in, my husband (my sainted helper) and I spent the precious few hours shoving all of the STUFF that was out on the counters, on the shelves, on the tables and desks, into the cabinets and filing cabinet drawers so that the room at least had a tidy appearance. That, setting up the tables, and setting out the materials I needed for the first day took up most of the allotted time I had. So the room appears neat and I have my bare necessities, but I need more!

2. (Going along with the above) Access to my classroom.
At my last school I could get into my classroom pretty much 24/7 (excluding the hours between midnight and 5am). This obviously made cleaning/organizing/etc much easier. It's a BIG change to have so little access.

3. My friends.
My wonderful work friends, and our "lunch bunch." People whose classrooms I could drop into; people who would appreciate my stories; people whose stories I appreciated. Having people to sit and joke with during staff meetings. Going to Subway for lunch on Fridays. The endless series of pranks and inside jokes. That'll happen eventually here, but it takes time.

4. My kids.
Of course I miss my kids. Especially since I get so many repeaters - kids who take more than one of my classes. It's odd not having anyone I know or who knows me in my classes.

5. The kids knowing me.
The old school was fairly small, so even the kids I didn't have in class knew who I was, and I could chat with pretty much anyone in the hallway. Here, if I talk to someone that's not in one of my classes, they kind of just give me weird looks and back away slowly, looking for an escape.


1. When I log in to the student info system, I do NOT have an administrator's view.
At my old school I had several responsibilities on top of teaching, including assisting with scheduling. Hence, when I logged in instead of seeing only my classes, I saw EVERYTHING. I love that I am "just" a teacher again.

2. No 25 minute before school hall duty.
At the old school, every four weeks I had a week of hall duty that commenced 25 minutes before the first bell. Not so here.

3. No detention duty.
At the old school, each teacher had to monitor a certain number of after school detentions per year. Not so here.

4. Not being responsible for a school-wide curriculum.
I was in charge of writing curriculum for a school-wide advisory period; no more! That frees up literally hours and hours of my weekends, yippee!

As great a joy as coaching can be, it's an enormous commitment of both time and energy. Also, an enormous commitment to patience with both players and parents, on top of the patience required for teaching - one can only have so much patience before parts of your brain begin to pop! But seriously, it's amazing that I get to focus solely on my teaching.


1. Reloading the copy machine.
So far this year, I am still the first to use the copy machine due to my early arrival. And, it is always devoid of paper, so once again I am the early morning paper reloader.

2. Rule follower.
The first couple weeks of school the kids looked at me like I was stupid and/or ridiculously uncool for enforcing universal school rules (like having to have your planner to get a pass, no passes first or last ten minutes of class, no food in the classroom) when the "smarter" and "cooler" teachers didn't - just like at my old school. But they're now starting to come around and for the most part have stopped trying to get around the rules with me. Be consistent, most will usually get it. Eventually.

3. Forgetting my lunch.
It's ridiculous how often I forget my lunch. But since I bring real food, I can't very well set it out with my purse and briefcase the night before. At the old school I could run home or to Casey's (mmm, Casey's fountain pop........ says the nutrition teacher...); not so here. At least I've smartened up enough to keep a box of granola bars handy for such emergencies.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Expectations vs Reality

A little over a week ago I attended a White Sox game (actually, a Red Line Double-Header: Cubs @ Wrigley in the afternoon, then a Red Line ride down to The Cell for White Sox ball in the evening - awesome, but beside the point). During the top of the third inning, catcher A.J. Pierzynski was ejected, upon which he immediately swung around, pushed up the mask and was in the official's face.

photo from

Naturally at that point Ventura had to come out of the dugout, and was then ejected himself.

photo from

And of course throughout the ordeal the entire stadium was whoopin' and hollerin', cheering Pierzynski and Ventura on. Flowers came in to catch, the Sox won, there were fireworks after, and yet for most people the most memorable part of the game was the altercation in the third inning.

Put this into the context of a middle school or a high school.

1. Student A is upset by something that Student B says. Student A then immediately begins yelling in Student B's face (and as we all know, we're very lucky if it's just yelling).

Staff Reaction: try to break up altercation using whatever procedures/policies school has in place.

2. Crowd of Students gather round and start whoopin' and hollerin'.

Staff Reaction: try to disperse crowd while still trying to break up altercation.

3. Student C jumps in the fray to back up Student A.

Staff Reaction: try to keep Student C out of it while still trying to disperse crowd while still trying to break up altercation.

4. Crowd of Students becomes even more excited and animated.

Staff Reaction: try to get all three main parties disengaged while trying to disperse crowd.

5. Students A, B, and C are finally pulled apart and taken to separate offices for de-escalation and consequences, crowd is dispersed, and for the rest of the afternoon teachers have difficulty beginning each class because the students are still reliving, recounting, and reanalyzing the scene from earlier.

Staff Reaction: vetoing the conversation, lecturing the students on their Jerry Springer-ish voyeurism, using the opportunity as a springboard to discuss good choices and the consequences of actions, etc, etc.

Administrator Reaction: rehashing with the staff policies and procedures for breaking up hallway disturbances, reiterating the importance of staying on top of the students at all times and not allowing such things to occur in the first place, reminding of the importance of being at your hallway post during passing periods, etc, etc.

Staff Reaction to Administrator: nodding, doodling, thinking about what to make for dinner, annoyance that only a couple of staff members weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing at the time of the incident yet everyone is getting lectured, etc, etc (you know it's true).

I'm not suggesting that fights should not be broken up, crowds not dispersed, procedures not reviewed and so on. All of these actions are necessary to ensure the return of stability so that the school day can continue, learning can continue, and lack of injuries among the student (and staff) body can continue. 

I am suggesting that we are fighting ingrained human nature. If a manager screams at an official, if two hockey players drop their gloves, if two ball players exchange blows, then the crowds are going to go nuts, the benches are going to empty, and everyone is going to jump into the fray. It's the same thing in schools. If someone feels disrespected, they are going to let go on the person who they feel disrespected them, then their friends are going to jump in to back up their boy/gal, the crowd will go wild, and it will be the talk of the school for hours. It doesn't matter how many lessons on conflict resolution and communication you work into the curriculum, how many "Expectations" posters you hang, how many PBIS Cool Tools you implement, this is how things are going to go down. Yet every time an incident goes down in this fashion (and it always goes down in this fashion), we debrief and analyze how things could have been handled differently to avoid the same results. And then the next time it goes down the same way. Is there an answer? Is it reasonable to expect 12, 13...17, 18 year olds to have the presence of mind to reject inner impulses and act responsibly in the heat of the moment when surrounded by dozens to hundreds of people who have just witnessed their defamation? And is it reasonable to expect these kids to handle the situation in that responsible manner when they have never witnessed the adults in their lives reject those inner impulses?

It seems unrealistic to me, but I see no other way to manage a school than to set the expectation that students walk away from altercations, that they stay out of it when their friends get into one, and that they continue walking by rather than stopping to take in the show. I will present the lessons on conflict resolution, on good decision-making, on the consequences of actions. I will de-escalate the excitement of students who come into my classroom after witnessing such an event. But inside, I know the same scene will repeat itself over and over again throughout the school year, with the same progression and same results. 

Anyone have any thoughts regarding our expectations versus students' reality?

Student Folders Upgrade

Back in April I described my Student Folder system. This year I have made a Pinterest-inspired upgrade.

Her system is to keep a sheet of mailing labels on her clipboard, keep running notes on the students as they work, then afix them to notecards to keep handy for conferences, etc - great idea!

So what I do is keep file folder labels (they fit well in the note space of my Student Record forms) attached to my clipboard, then stick the labels into the file folders. Brilliant! Not only do I not need to worry that I'll forget to record something of importance, but I also find that I'm making many more notes. I am especially getting many more "good" notes into student folders, rather than simply documenting discipline or off-task notes.