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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Great find! These are great for grading, and the kids love them!

Here's a quickie activity that I just checked for completion:

It's a nice way to add a little fun to papers that you hand back. And so cute!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tardy Documentation

What do you mean that's my fourth tardy? I wasn't tardy no four times - when was I tardy?....

A familiar line, eh? Hence, always a good idea to have a good system to track tardies. In the past I just jotted down the dates of tardies next to the students' names on the roster I carry on my clipboard, and being able to rattle off the dates of previous tardies has usually been enough to subdue objections. This year I'm going to take it a step farther and have students sign when they have a tardy, just to avoid possible problems down the road. What I did was make a sheet of labels that can be kept on above-mentioned clipboard, and all I'll have to do in the event of a tardy is fill out name/date/hour/tardy # and have the student sign it. Then I'll slap it in his or her student folder, where it can easily be retrieved if need be. After each tardy I'll also go ahead and pre-fill a second label with name and tardy #, that way if they earn another tardy I won't have to look up what number they're on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Neon Rules

As part of my at-home preparation, I have been making posters of classroom rules/procedures/etc. Here are the two that are finished, minus laminating.

This is on posterboard cut down to 13"x18", and has the abbreviated schedule for the first two days of school on it. On the reverse side is the regular daily schedule, making it easy to flip back and forth between the two. As we all know, having a posted schedule greatly cuts down on (but, alas, does not eliminate) "When do we get outta here?"

Here is the remainder of the original poster board, brightly decorated with the class grading plan.

There are a few others dealing with classroom rules and procedures that still need finishing touches, but they are equally as bright and (you would think) hard not to notice in a classroom.

But, for now, I must prepare for sleep - Institute Day tomorrow, and my very first few precious hours to work in my classroom!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Course Syllabus

My first class at my new school begins at 7:40am this coming Tuesday. My very first opportunity to work in my classroom will be 3pm-7pm this coming Monday. Not even kidding. Due to some repair work being completed in the gym (right around the corner from my room), my classroom was sealed off this week, with all sorts of tubes and machinery and zippered plastic walls blocking it. It actually looked a lot like the house in ET after it was taken over. On the one hand, I really enjoy that analogy (I wish I had pictures!). On the other hand, this creates an enormous challenge.

But what can you do? Moving on, I'm focusing all of my effort on the things that I can accomplish at home. One thing that I'm really happy with is a revamping of my course syllabus/expectations to make it more "junior high" friendly. I must admit, it was pretty terrific to only have to create a syllabus for one prep, rather than four or five like usual. Here's what I created.

The one I used last year was a little text-dense - fine for high school, a little too much for the junior high attention span. It covers class content, materials, and my classroom management plan. Also, a page for parents to sign and include contact information, which we all know usually comes in handy at some point (amazing how often the phone numbers in the student data management system are incorrect, isn't it?). It's a lot of information to include in one document, but you know you've got to cover all your bases at the beginning of the year or face CHAOS. And chaos in a classroom with knives, fire, scissors and needles is a bad, bad thing.

Speaking of knives, fire, scissors and needles, at the beginning of both the sewing and foods units I do have an additional document with rules/procedures specific to those areas. I'm sure you'll find them on here eventually.

Good luck with preparing your classrooms!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer is... >GASP!<... ending!!!!!!

Well, fellow teachers, the end (or shall I say the beginning?) is near... time for Back to School! And before going any further, I just want to mention that I received my first B2S email ad, from Staples, on JUNE 19TH! Come on people, give us a break, eh?

Some big changes this summer... I have moved to a new city, and will be teaching at a new school. This year I'll be teaching junior high, 7th and 8th grades. Hence, LOTS of work to be done. Not the least of which will be re-starting color-coded kitchens. So glad I bought almost all of the smaller colored equipment for my last school with my own cash; however, of course very sad to have to leave behind my beautiful stand mixers and gorgeous colored pots and pans... sigh...

This Monday will be the first day I get to work in my classrooms. SO MUCH WORK TO DO. The kids start on the 21st, so I have one week to get as much as I can done. The good news is I won't start cooking for a few weeks, so I could hold all classes in the sewing room, giving me extra time to get the foods room in order.

I am also of course working on revamping curriculum - going from high school to junior high means big change! At my new school I get 7th & 8th graders together for one semester. Technically I suppose I could do the same thing with every class every day and only have one prep, a completely alien concept to me. However, I think you have to be a real masochist to want to run 6 foods labs in one day. My plan is to create a curriculum with four different units, and then stagger them among my classes. The first unit everyone will do the same, and then two of my classes will cook, two will sew, and two will study child care (from a babysitting angle); then they'll rotate every 4-5 weeks. This way only two of my classes get my first run in each of those subjects, and by the end of the year I will have taught the sewing, cooking, and child care units six different times - it's like combining six years of teaching into one!

My other challenge is that some of the 8th graders took this class last year, and they are mixed in with the 7th graders and the first-time 8th graders. I imagine that I'll be different enough from the last teacher that the veterans won't feel like they're doing the same thing again, but I need to plan for next year. I am tentatively sketching out a two-year curriculum, so that there aren't repeats. Like covering "cooking" one year and "baking" the next, alternating sewing projects between years, and swapping out child care for financial management or something else. 

One great thing about my new school is that they offer several professional development opportunities in the period before school begins. Yesterday I attended an all-day session on differentiated instruction, and I have to say it was the best workshop I have ever attended. Very informative, very useful, and immediately applicable. I'm excited to implement what I've learned!

One thing that I'm working on this weekend is "Welcome Back" postcards. I like to send one to each student the week before school starts. While it seems a little "elementary", a lot of students mention it throughout it the year (and it helps with the parents as well). I haven't been able to order my postcards with pre-printed contact info on them yet because I only just learned my contact info. So, instead, I'm using recipe cards!

I just write a very short message - welcome back, I'm your FACS teacher, see you on the first day, yada yada - then stamp and address on the other side. I don't have the greetings or addresses on these yet, as I'm still waiting for my rosters, but those'll be the last things I have to slap on 'em before mailing 'em.

Well, back to work for me! I'll keep you posted on any beginning of the school year ideas I come up with. Good luck with your own preparation!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sewing Project - Rag Quilts

It's been quite some time since I've posted, and for good reason: the end of the school year, moving to a new city, changing school districts, unpacking, preparing for new job, laziness... pretty intense stuff!

Anyway, here was our final project for the semester: Rag Quilts! These are a great beginner quilt, because with the ruffles in between each piece you don't need to worry about them lining up perfectly. Here are a few samples:

Mickey & Minnie - she made this for her mom. Awwww.

Blurry focus, sorry. This one is flannel.

Close-up. Once this is washed, the frills will be softer and more curled.

It was ambitious, but they were a very motivated class - I just wish I had remembered to take more pictures of the final products!