That seventh grade sense of humor

Words that pertain to sex run the gamut from funny to hilarious. In Spanish, huevos is a slang word for testicles that also means eggs. Students can entertain themselves for some minutes by trying to work the word huevos into a lesson. Watching people fall or trip is always good for a laugh. One class still reminds me about the time I fell off my stool earlier this year. They loved that one. About the funniest classroom event has to be farting. Farting can completely disrupt a lesson when it is loud and smelly enough. Once the laughter calms down, I may have to deal with student smell-management attempts such as leaving your seat and waving your hoodie to push the smell toward someone else. I also have to do my best to minimize some student’s humiliation. Fortunately, students are usually pointing fingers at each other, so the culprit can usually deflect the spotlight.

Eduhonesty: A few laughs help a classroom. In a way, I think seventh graders are lucky. Farts are a fact of life, so kids can always find a reason to laugh.

For many reasons, seventh grade often proves emotionally tough for students. But they do laugh a lot. It helps.

When you give a moose a muffin

Some results should just be expected. When you hand five twelve-year-old students a set of papers to hand back, the return process will go quickly but not necessarily sanely. The sensible approach to returning graded papers involves designating two quiet girls to pass back finished assignments while other students carefully put those assignments in binders; that approach takes awhile though. Instead, I picked mostly boys on hyperdrive for the task. That left me to create another descriptive line for classroom management:

“Passing back papers is not a contact sport!”

Eduhonesty: I love those boys on hyperdrive. They make a classroom more fun. But I know why my husband is glued to the basketball game out in the front room. Sports are hard-wired into the DNA of some kids. Why would you drop a paper in the wastebasket when you could crumple it into a ball instead and throw it across the classroom? Obviously, paperwads can’t be flying across the room. I have my paperwads in control. I let the leash slip a little in paper-pass-back maneuvers today, though.

Most boys need to move around. So do some girls. Classes go better when they get the chance.

Going to miss the puppies

Having been told by my Assistant Principal that including pictures of my dog in PowerPoints is distracting, I will omit the dogs, the memes, the funny cartoons, etc. We are not to waste any minutes on noninstructional material, he says.

Well, O.K. I will comply. I certainly am not going to war over this issue. The kids always seemed to like the memes and puppies, but I guess I will take the straightforward nothing-but-the-facts-ma’am approach. At this point, I expect I will just scout out a PowerPoint online that fits the standard and the topic.

Eduhonesty: I will save a great deal of time with this latest decree.

But my PowerPoints have been part of my art. I took time to make them original and funny, when I could find time anyway. Finding and making memes has always made my evening’s prep work more enjoyable. Lando Calrissian in the “Empire Strikes Back” expressed my feelings about teaching under my Assistant Principal’s new regime perfectly: “This deal is getting worse all the time!”

Most likely, my students’ pleasure in the new system of taking notes on the Chromebooks will make up for any loss of artistry or humor in my presentation. I hope.

Not throwing anyone under the bus

In response to a comment about how another group of students with some difficulties are outperforming my own, I might have noted that the group in question was regularly studying the test on the day before the test. That should improve any group’s performance. My best chance to survive the current regime may be to adopt this practice.


Eduhonesty: The honest truth is that honesty may not be my best policy.

In a climate of bullying, in a time of “Do it or else!” when no one will listen to me, the best policy may be resignation, especially since my elderly parents are in rather desperate shape. This job is taking an extraordinary number of waking hours and I am neglecting my own household and my own family. I love my students, but I am feeling a) futile and b) as if I may be attacked for random indiscretions at any time. In the meantime, my blind father and memory-deficient mother are barely managing. He can’t see and she can’t remember what mail she has picked up or where she might have put that mail. She keeps driving to doctor appointments, with him telling her where to turn in the town where she has lived for almost her whole life.

There are too many garbage compactors out here. The bilingual department wants me to strongly encourage students to get the scores necessary to exit the bilingual program. I got castigated (hell, excoriated) for telling these students they needed to exit the bilingual program if they wanted to go to college.

But it’s true, or true for almost all of them anyway. Bilingual students in my district can’t take honors or AP classes. If they don’t master the English necessary to pass the bilingual exit test, they also won’t be able to write the papers demanded in college courses. Still, I was clobbered for showing a lack of faith in my students with this presented as one piece of evidence.

I think I’ll pick this up later. I’ve a great deal to say, but classes to prepare as well. As always, I intend to be ready for tomorrow. I’ve never abandoned my minions yet.

However, I’ll have a resignation letter in the glove box of my car. There’s a first time for everything. I’m not sure I’m doing any good out here with all these countless hours of work anyway. If I am, admin sure does not seem to be noticing.

Response to my 10-25 bullying post

Atlas is about to shrug. I have been trying to adapt others’ required lesson plans to meet my students needs. This will stop. I am going to follow those lesson plans exactly. With all these watchful eyes, I don’t think I have a choice. Also, adapting can get you in the damnedest kinds of trouble. I have an evaluator who criticized me for not using the opener in the whole-group lesson plan (We are not supposed to do whole group instruction, but we are supposed to follow whole group lesson plans!) despite the fact that I know from experience most of my kids could not do that problem. An opener is supposed to take five minutes but this was a division problem and most of my kids don’t know how to divide without a calculator.

“Our teacher told us you don’t have to know how to do that anymore,” one explained. “You use the calculator.”

In practical terms, passing out all the calculators during a lesson that otherwise needs no calculators to do one division problem would be silly and would defeat the purposes of having 5 quiet minutes to take attendance and handle administrative matters. In larger terms, I definitely need to teach division since it’s not actually an optional math skill, no matter what some teacher may or may not have said. That student may even have been quoting his elementary school correctly. I had a district administrator tell me the same thing a couple of years ago. When discussing the lack of basic math skills among my students, she told me not to worry about that.

“Just give them calculators,” she said.

You can do ratios and proportions without knowing division. In spots where division might be useful, you find a way to multiply instead. I can divide by 4 or I can multiply by 1/4 to the same effect.

Oops, straying off track here.

I got in a fair amount of trouble for deviating from the lesson plan, among other infractions. Now I might observe that I have been teaching for years. If we want to use numbers that those digits bureaucrats and administrators have decided tell all, my I.Q.s about 150. I once heard it takes a 69 on the Miller Analogies Test to get into MENSA. I got a 79. I’m pretty freaking smart even if age and hard-living have taken their toll. I might say that I am probably capable of adapting lesson plans to my students’ advantage.

But I won’t. If I tried, someone would probably tell me, “We won’t accept any excuses.”

Unfortunately, “we” apparently won’t listen to any explanations either, since all explanations are immediately filed into the excuses category.

I see only one option. I do the lesson plans exactly. Maybe this will work better than I think it will. We will do all the small group work demanded, even if I have two classes who are on average 3-4 years behind the material we are presenting, according to the measuring instruments my administrators are employing. In one class, 4 students are 4-5 years behind. One pegs in at a first grade level. She comes to tutoring with me weekly and I can vouch for the accuracy of this number. She’s a lovely girl. Math doesn’t stick with her and I have to shove into this year’s time demands the need to get this child tested for special education. I may foist the lion’s share of the responsibility for this effort off on a more-favored colleague, since I don’t want admin to think I am “making excuses.”

I’m feeling negative right now and this concerns me. I will have to work on being supportive and cheery, I guess. Negativity doesn’t help much of anything. Neither does attempting to explain the problems inherent in the situation. No one listens. I have amassed a great deal of knowledge that feels rather useless in my daily life. Oh, well. The kids regularly use the perfect word for this grim reality: Whatever…

In practical terms, I’m about to start to do something that I don’t think will work as well as what I have been doing. The benefit to me is that I won’t have to justify anything. If I do only what other people have planned, I will not be held responsible for independent efforts. I am also going to find ways to put these guys into the required small groups. I have been working on this. I guess it’s overdue, too. I spent a great deal of time trying to explain to my kids what a conclusion was yesterday. Some of them may be ready now to answer the question, “What can you conclude from this graph?” Did I need to break them into groups for this? Maybe not, but having me talk to 2 or 3 of them and repeat the same information probably did make it more likely that this information would sink in. As to the time lost by students in other groups who were stuck, while I was across the room, I don’t have much to say except that going up front to address the group would have been another example of the much-maligned whole-group instruction. No, we are going to do groups if it kills us. We have to learn groups. Maybe my initial time loss as we learn how to effectively do groups will provide long-term benefit.

Admin would say I should have differentiated the materials given to the groups, giving some groups easier work than others. My answer would be that a graph about gas price per gallon has to be about as simple as it gets. One gallon costs $3.00, 2 gallons cost $6.00, etc. I can’t get much simpler than that. Given that all groups were struggling with my graph, a more difficult graph for any group doesn’t seem to make much sense either.

Will the time loss from repeated group work be recouped in long-term learning? That issue has passed out of my hands. As in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, I think I will take my mind off the market. My best tactical move appears to be to do exactly what everybody tells me to do. I don’t see how continuously passing out incomprehensible materials will work, but I will find out. Fast and furious teaching will be the only way to approach this plan.

Eduhonesty: My problem will be a simple one. I can take the fast and furious approach: Will my students follow me down that road? Some will. I have no reason to believe the majority will. This material has been running years above their academic operating level. I can only hope to be pleasantly surprised.

If I am really lucky, somewhere I may even find time to teach the missing division and other lost elementary-school skills. Maybe. But those lesson plans I am about to follow in lock-step fashion don’t leave much extra time for “regular” students, let alone those middle school students who have already fallen a full 3 – 5 years behind the pack.

On the positive side of the ledger

My students love taking science notes on the Chromebooks. They were actually disappointed today when I told them we were going to cut construction paper to make flash cards. Cutting and decorating trumps most other academic activities. Score one for technology. Score one for the teacher who doesn’t have to decipher penciled scribbles.

Eduhonesty: Lack of technology creates true learning barriers in poorer districts. Improved technology situation in my district has become a real win.

Flogging the ass

If we were as hard on our students as we sometimes are on our teachers, a thick percentage of this country would drop out as soon as they hit the legal minimum age.

Eduhonesty: Feeling bullied today. The kids are fine. Admin can be scary, though, and I especially dislike this fact when they are trying to be scary. If I tried “Do it or else!” in the classroom, I’d deserve to be in trouble. Why can administrators tell me to pull up my test scores or else without consequences? Especially when any explanation whatsoever for those lower scores gets labeled as excuses.

Sigh. Need to be quiet. No one is listening anyway.

All the many strangers

We are a school under surveillance, our low scores having attracted many outsiders to the money pool the state has provided us. For that matter, the state itself is visiting. About 7 strangers and semi-strangers walked into one class this afternoon, most of them representatives of the state, I think. Two less-official semi-strangers stopped in to observe yesterday. I was so wrung out from that observation that I had to stop to regroup after they left. My opener had not been going well, leaving me feeling like Luke Skywalker trapped in the garbage compactor. I have received written negative feedback in the past because my opener took too long. But the kids clearly did not know the material in that opener. I faced negative feedback for abandoning the opener with the confusion unaddressed, but taking time to fix the confusion had the potential to reap negative feedback as well.

Damn, I am tired of this. Yesterday felt like another no-win. Should I stay with it? I wondered, feeling slightly frantic. Should I abandon ship? What if I stopped and could not find my materials for the next part of the lesson? (I found them instantly right where I thought they were, but I’ve reached the point where I expect the snake in the water to pull me under.)

I had more problems. We are all supposed to be doing the same lesson plan, but my opener was a review activity from some weeks past. Was I going to get dinged for presenting alternative material, even if the original intent was only to do so for five minutes? Fortunately, this pair of outsiders left before my stress reached nuclear levels, leaving me to finish my unfortunate opener.

Today, the latest parade got to watch me start my activity on effective writing. I imagine the group thought the activity looked fine, but two administrators were in this group and I was doing whole group instruction. I am supposed to be doing small groups and pairs, but “they” never seem to walk in while I am doing this, even though small groups are all the rage right now and I need to be seen with my groups. I guess I can call this an opportunity lost. I am also afraid my administrators will think I have deviated the planned instruction for this period since I am supposed to be using the computers for English-language instruction. Only the bilingual department decided this week that we would take turns using the computers since having all of us on at the same time seemed to slow down the program we are using. Does admin know about the change in plan? Should I communicate this to them? Will I sound paranoid if I do?

I am paranoid. Unfortunately, one of my best pedagogical strengths has always been my sense of humor. I can make the kids laugh. I can hold their attention. At this point, though, I expect admin will never get the chance to appreciate this strength. Strangers, semi-strangers, and school administrators walk in and I freeze up now, waiting for the note that says, “I love how you did that, but …” After the but, I always find I screwed up something again. I don’t literally freeze. I could keep talking as I fled a horde of stumbling, shrieking zombies. However, I lose my spontaneity and I believe I am losing something else. I am losing hope.

Eduhonesty: I don’t think I can win. Thank God, I don’t have to win. I can quit. The scary part of this post is the large number of teachers in the building who are telling me they feel the same way. Many of them can not walk away. They are trapped in the garbage compactor.

Let’s end on a funny note: Every student in the bilingual class that was observed yesterday speaks decent social English, but they are often lacking academic vocabulary. I received a recent written criticism when a student could not explain to an administrator what she was doing mathematically. (Her MAP scores put her English at a first grade level.) Various visitors have asked my students to explain what they are doing. My students are bilingual students and sometimes shy, too. When I stopped to regroup yesterday, I explained to the class that they had to try to answer these questions to the best of their ability since people were grading me on them.

“What if we can’t explain?” A student reasonably asked.

Good question. Sometimes they don’t know what they are doing. We are being forced to follow a program written by outsiders, and that program is years above EVERY student’s operating level I can tell by grading the papers. Often, they are self-conscious about their English skills, especially around strangers. The whole explain-what-you-are-doing thing looked like another garbage compactor to me. I gazed out at my attentive class, filled with kids who wanted to figure out how to help me.

“Well, why don’t you try saying ‘Me no speak English,'” I finally suggested.

Laughter erupted, helping relax my too-tense classroom. They found that idea hilarious. Of course, maybe someone will actually say that to the Assistant Principal now. If so, I’ll pretend it’s a great joke and we’ll move on. We just keep doing math and moving on, math I did not write and often math they have never seen before. That’s what we do. That’s all we can do.

I love my kids. I enjoy teaching my kids. I plan to finish out this contract, unlike the four teachers who have already left.

Missed my meeting in the land of no subs

I started the week with a 7 AM meeting except I didn’t. I stopped to open a door for a new colleague, a music teacher. I opened with the typical, superficial chit-chat: “How are you doing?” I asked.

She started to cry. Crying coworkers trump meetings. A bad hangnail would trump a meeting if I could figure out how to get away with it, but coworkers always get my time. This pressure-cooker of a site led another brand-new hire to walk out on us today.

The music teacher must have had a hideous week-end. The Friday before, one of the “specials” teachers was absent. Specials are classes like Spanish, music and art. Due to the lack of subs, this teacher had been forced to double her class, putting 60 students in a room meant for thirty. Her room has hidey-holes with instruments in them, hiding places, and a corner beside a now-damaged keyboard that’s out of view. Instruments are difficult to protect. On Friday, sixty kids had refused to listen to this woman while throwing crayons at each other. She’s taught elementary and she came in feeling like an accomplished teacher. She has lost that feeling.

“I feel like a bad teacher,” she sobbed.

She’s not. That room’s an ambush, a series of accidents waiting to happen. The whole situation on Friday was an ambush. You can’t put sixty 11 – 13 year-old kids in a small space without an extremely well-defined plan. That classroom’s tiny for thirty kids. If she had any possible win, I believe it would have been showing a movie like Frozen or The Avengers. She had no way to use the DVDs she had made for her music lessons: Some kid stole them. She had made the DVDs herself so replacement won’t be too onerous.

I listened for awhile. I reassured her. I hugged her. Since then, I have popped in to wish this woman and other specials teachers a good day.

Eduhonesty: The lack of subs is killing some of us. Teachers rarely walk away from contracts, but four have left us so far this year and it’s only October. We’ve managed to hire one new replacement besides the one who walked away today. I hope this latest hire stays the distance for the kids’ sake.

One of many reasons why money matters: Subs? What subs?

I have been pretty sick at points this month but I just keep dragging myself to class. I like my coworkers. I don’t want to foist extra students on them. I like my students. I don’t want to waste their days.

We rarely have subs available. When I see the front office calling early in the morning, I know that I am about to be asked to sacrifice my one (alleged) planning period. We get paid for taking extra classes, but at the cost of taking a straight-through rocket ride to the end of the day.

I work in a tough school. The kids are hard on subs. I vividly recall a sub who stormed into the teacher’s lounge, shaking and howling loudly a few years ago, after having been told to fuck herself, along with various other expletives, before watching students lie to the principal about her. “This is not a school!” She sobbed, waving her trembling arms about, before walking out midday, leaving the kids with no sub for art. She never came back.

Where are our subs? North, South, East or West, they go to the schools where the pay’s the best. We don’t pay well. We don’t provide easy working conditions. Some subs have tried to work smaller classes, taking only special education or bilingual classes, but then our administration would shift those subs into regular classes instead. The subs finished out the day in unexpectedly larger and rowdier classes and never came back. It’s only October and we already seem to be effectively without subs.

We used to have subs when the administration was less demanding. The subs did next to nothing except keep the kids alive, but at least we had subs. If you left the right work behind, and set up a reward system, the students’ day did not have to be wasted. Now we are squandering ridiculous amounts of student and teacher time.

Doubled-up classes don’t work well. Teachers are giving up planning time to run back and forth across the school, and don’t have any time to prepare for whatever sub plan they find (or don’t find — kids have been known to stash the plans). When classes are split up between other teachers, the divvying process also derails education. One lesson plan can’t usually be spread all across the hall — Who has time to make that happen in our perpetually short-staffed school? — so students end up joining the class they land in. Do those students do any work? Probably not often. A student stuck in a health class who is not taking health can be 100% certain that health classwork won’t impact his or her grade.

Eduhonesty: I understand why my Assistant Principal is trying only to employ dedicated, quality subs. Other districts find those subs. Why can’t we? A number of retired teachers live in and near my district, teachers who have taught in my school and know how to teach in my school. Why aren’t they walking through our door? Student behavior may be part of the problem, but for the right money, I’m sure we could find the subs we need. If the pay was equivalent, I might well return to substitute teach after retirement. I like my kids. I know them. I’ll be able to connect with their little brothers and sisters.

But after I retire, I expect I’ll decide to work for more money closer to home.