February 21, 2013

Earning Rewards

Remember when I explained about how we started all these behavior trackers with our most needy students? Well, my friend Amanda is the mentor teacher for one of my students, B. She's super encouraging, and our students respond really well to her, so I'm super glad she's working with him even though she doesn't teach him. 

As I told y'all before, I have several students on behavior trackers. They're pretty good at calling each other out and telling on each other to the mentor teachers, which I think is hilarious. Some of them are really invested in this process. In fact, A, one of my contact girls (I called her my "project" in my previous post), and B often talk about Amanda and me as their mamas as in, "I'm gonna tell your mama that you..." when they do something in class. they crack me up!

Actually, it's become quite normal for me to be called mama by several of my students. And now that I think about it, the handful that do are all severe behavior problems. I guess it says something about the need for stable parental figures in their lives, huh?

Anyway... back to the point of my post...

Immediately after beginning his tracker, B's behavior improved. He was very motivated to earn money toward a new school "jacket" (that's what they call sweatshirts down here... it drives me crazy! haha). He worked very hard to stay on track and earned his reward, which he proudly wears each day. Together, they then set a new goal, which was to work toward a special lunch brought to school for him.

Food, apparently, is not a huge motivator for this child. Slowly but surely, his behavior infractions have crept up. In fact, he's right on par with the behavior that earned him a mentor teacher. Sad face!

Amanda met with B after school today to discuss his recent behavior and take his suggestions for changes to his contract. He stated that he wanted some new goals on his daily tracker (and they were great suggestions... this child is well aware of his weaknesses!), and he has requested a new reward: a trip to LSU with Amanda and me! 

Awwww! I am so honored when the kids choose me as their reward! :)

I can't wait for him to earn this trip with his school mamas! 

Stuck In LA

The first day back from Mardi Gras break, I told my students about my grandma and prepared them, mentally, for the time when I would be gone for her funeral. They were super sweet and supportive, offering their condolences and extended their arms in hugs. Several students dropped by my room extra times that day just to check on me and ask me how I was doing (some even asked about my mom... so sweet!). 

On Monday, when I told them she passed, I explained that I would need to extend my weekend, leaving enough time to drive to Chicago and back for the service. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned from our Finance Director that I only have ONE sick day left for the school year. Yep... ONE. (Remember earlier in the year when I got a double ear infection and lost my hearing? Yeah... there went my days!)

My school gives us 8 days. Sick, vacation, whatever. You get eight days. Anything beyond comes out of the your paycheck. And here's where teachers get really screwed (for understandable reason): when the figure the amount you get paid "per day" they use your yearly salary divided by the number of days worked (182). Those with mad math skills can deduce that this means that the amount that comes out of my paycheck is absurd!

Ultimately, after speaking to my mom, we agreed that it just didn't make sense to take the extra time off. Three days to drive to and from Chicago would be insane. And don't even ask about three day airline tickets.... yuck! So, I'll be missing my grandma's service.

When I had to tell my students that I was no longer leaving, they were very angry for me. They wanted me to throw myself on the floor of my principal's office and cry (does that show you their emotional maturity?)! Then they wanted me to be mad at my co-workers. I had to keep explaining that neither was a solution. haha Still, though, it was nice to hear them show sympathy for my situation. 

I even had a co-worker who tried, without my knowledge, to give me some of her days so I could have enough time off. I work with some great people! 

I know my grandma would understand... but I'm bummed that I'm missing out on all that family time. Anyone with family out of state can probably attest to the fact that we only get together for weddings and funerals. And darnit... I LIKE my family!

But... such is life!

February 18, 2013

The Luxury of Kleenex

Once upon a time, I worked in a school where all my students promptly brought in the requested items from the school supply list.

I no longer work in that school.

No, in this school, I think I had about 3 students in my homeroom who brought in any items. And I'm not sure who, exactly, made the list anyway because I don't see a need for 50 rolls of paper towels. Maybe it's good I only got about 6.

Except that it's February, and I have a nasty cold (I blame Mardi Gras and the stress of my grandmother dying). And my poor nose is raw from those darn paper towels... because Lord knows we don't have any Kleenex.

In my defense, I thought about picking up some Kleenex at Sam's Club yesterday, but based on Joel's symptoms (which seemed to be about a day ahead of mine), I thought I'd feel much better today.

I was wrong.

The first thing I did when I got home today was clean our my sinuses with my Neti Pot, and now I'm continuously rubbing VapoRub ointment on my poor nose. I'm telling myself that the burning feeling is healing my raw skin.

Who knew facial tissue was such a luxury item?

February 17, 2013

Rest in Peace, Grams!

Forgive me, that I haven't really been in a blogging mindset for the past week. I tried a couple times to write, but there was this huge thing hanging over my head that made any Mardi Gras or school post seem so trivial.

My maternal grandmother, age 88, suffered from a massive stroke and heart attack last Saturday. This has been tremendously shocking for us because she's never suffered from any health issues in the past, so an event like this wasn't even on our radar. After a week of hospice care and difficult decisions for my mom and her siblings, Grams left us early this morning.

You may remember when I blogged about her wedding just two years ago. Grandma's whole spirit changed when she met Jim, and although their time together was short, I don't think they ever ended that honeymoon phase of a relationship. My mom said that the whole time in the hospital, in the rare time she would/could talk, she was asking for him. I'm so glad he was by her side.

I've done a lot of thinking about my Grams in this past week, and I can honestly say that I don't recall her ever saying anything negative about anyone. Her spirit was too kind for such things. She was the kind of person who just made the best of anything and didn't like to dwell on things she couldn't control. She made everyone feel important and loved. She would light up with pride when she listened to any of us tell stories about our lives, and she was the queen of sending homemade cards for every occasion just so you know she's thinking about you.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to grow up with my grandma (all of my grandparents, actually). They weren't just people who sent cards or visited a couple times a year. I spent many, many weekends with Grams learning how to drink unsweetened tea, bake cookies from scratch, thread a sewing machine (a skill I promptly forgot), and win all your money in dozens of cards games. When I was a a kid at the lake house, Grandma taught me the "proper" way to fish, a pastime she and my grandpa enjoyed together often. She made me bait my own hook, catch my own fish, cut and gut it, fry it, and finally eat it. I don't think I've ever done it since (I'm too much of a princess), but I still remember the experience with her laughing as she gently coaxed me throughout the whole process.

I look forward to passing on these experiences to future generations with the stories of how my grandma taught them to me. She will forever be in my heart and mind. Rest in peace, Grams!

February 11, 2013

Mardi Gras Break

I'm halfway through a 5 day weekend right now, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Spring break may be really late this year (the end of April... three weeks before the end of the school year, in fact), but Mardi Gras break is happening right now. And thank God for it!

We celebrated with a bunch of coworkers/friends on Saturday with a party that began at 10:00 AM. I haven't had a day like that in a long, long time, but it was much needed. 

At noon, we shifted down the street for the Spanish Town parade, which was my first since being down here. That's actually kinda crazy because there are parades here all the time, but this was the first one I was committed to attend. I had a great time catching all the beads and other trinkets and dancing in the streets. 

KST group shot (my coworkers) at the Spanish Town parade. 
After the parade, the party continued back at Abbey's house until about 5:00 when everyone decided to go their separate ways for nap time. Joel was very adamant that we did not need a break, but he conceded when he realized it wouldn't be much of a party by himself. After a few hours of rest, we reconvened and hit our favorite bar for some dancing.

It's storming all day today and tomorrow, so I'm not really anxious to head to NOLA for more festivities, but Joel is trying really hard to convince me. Either way, I'm definitely enjoying this break from school.

February 6, 2013

TPCASTT Poetry Analysis

First of all, I want to thank you all for your feedback on yesterday's discipline post. It was encouraging to know that I'm not alone in this struggle, and I have some good suggestions and perspective. I'm still open to more ideas if you have anything to offer!

Secondly, I wanted to share a couple videos from my classroom today. We started our poetry unit this week, and today I introduced TP-CASTT, which are the seven steps we use for poetry analysis. For those that don't know, they are title, paraphrase, connotations, attitude, shift, title (again), and theme. Today's goal was for every student to memorize the steps so thy know what they have to do (and what each step means). I don't know about your students, but mine are constantly tapping their pens and pencils to the various rhythms in their heads. I'm thankfully for this poetry unit, which allows them to put those beats to good use!!

Additionally, I'm a big believer in using body motions (Whole Brain Teaching) in the classroom, so I asked each class to come up with their own gestures. Each class came up with very different movements, but the great thing is that they own them! There may have been a little bit of a battle during lunch today over who has the best moves. haha!

Tomorrow, I will model how to apply these steps to the poem, "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein, and then we will do plenty of guided and independent practice over the next few weeks.

Best conversation with one of my top students today:

Student: I hate poetry. It's too hard!

Me: Good!

Student: (dumbfounded) Good?

Me: Yeah! It means you're stretching your brain.

Student: I don't need to stretch my brain!

Me: Oh, so you already know everything you need to know in life?

Student: No, not everything.

Me: Well, then I guess it's a good thing you have activities like this to stretch your brain!

Silly students!

February 4, 2013

Dealing with Discipline

I'm writing today's post in hopes that some of you can offer some advice. As I've mentioned before, the students in my school are very... er... challenging. Discipline, once beyond the classroom teacher, though, has become, in my humble opinion, very inconsistent. Let me explain what I mean...

For our school-wide PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, for those that aren't familiar) tracking, we use a system called Kickboard. At the beginning of each week, students are given $100 on their paychecks. Money can be added or deducted based on behavior from any staff member in real-time. Minor incidents that impact only the student in question, are worth $4, repeated offenses or those that disturb others are $8, violations that interfere with the learning environment (disrespect to others, talking back to teachers, consistently not following directions, etc.) are $15, and $25 are reserved for the major offenses like fighting. Our goal is for every student to maintain an average of $80 per week in order to participate in our school-wide celebrations, and at the end of each week, students with averages of $100 or more can choose a smaller reward (extra hour of PE, office helper, food certificates, etc.).

Paychecks are handed out to students (although I think they should be emailed directly to parents) at the end of each week, including an itemized list of additions and deductions with comments (warnings) from staff members. For most students, either the intrinsic reward, lack of consequences, or the smaller rewards we offer have been enough to keep behavior in check.

For other students, though, this paycheck system is a joke. By the end of today, for example, I have 5 students who are already below $50 for the week (one was at $24 by the end of third period). These students, of course, receive consequences of parent phone calls, silent lunch (two deductions in any day), after school detentions (any $30 loss in one day), and suspensions (at the discretion of our Dean of Students).

Some of my students can go from a simple $4 warning to $19 or more in mere seconds because they can't handle being redirected (even though they get two warnings before their first deduction) and they "flash out" on teachers for daring to deduct their money. It's a constant battle, trying to teach these students that there are better ways to express their frustrations or to just follow the directions the first time they're given.

Recently, the problem is that our ISS numbers are simply too high (once again, consider our population), and it just doesn't look good to the state. The newest solution has been to put students in ISS only for the teacher(s) where they had offenses the previous day because this is seen as a "time out" and doesn't have to be logged in the state tracking system. In my opinion, though, this is not effective. Especially because students can be put in this "time out" for incidents that happen out of the classroom. For example, today I deducted a student several times for hallway violations and for refusing to follow directions at lunch. He is now removed from my class tomorrow, and I'm the bad guy because I'm the one that stepped up and deducted him, even though several other teachers were present.

I have five students going to "time out" from my classes tomorrow. Five! And one who is suspended out of school. And I feel like this reflects negatively on me!

I'm at a point where I kinda want to stop doing deductions because I feel like I have to be the fall guy when my coworkers refuse to follow through (often because it's already been established that I will be the person to do it, like in lunch). At the same time, though, the behavior I deduct is absolutely deserving of consequences, and I don't want these kids to think it's okay.