March 30, 2013

Sometimes You Have to Teach to the Test

I'm linking up with Stephanie over at Middle School Matters Blog for her Favorite Finds linky as we head into our last week of preparation for the big, standardized test!

Okay, don't tell my administration this, but one thing I think they did well was provide our students will several practice assessments to gauge our readiness for the state test. We took our first test in the first weeks of school, and then we re-assessed them again at Midterms (end of first semester) and at the end of February.

Our practice tests are released from the state, and they've been very helpful in learning how my students will be assessed. It's one thing to know what standards I'm supposed to teach, but it's another thing to know how they will have to demonstrate that knowledge.

For the last practice test, I asked my administration to break up their scores into the following five areas: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, using information resources, and proofreading. Using their data, I was able to see where we needed to do the most review: Using Information Resources.

This is the part of the test my students always think they master and are shocked when they see their low, low scores. So, we spent the past week discussing the different types of questions and how to best answer them.

OK... here's the part of my post where I admit that although it goes against every fiber of my being, I have completely succumbed, in the past couple weeks, to teaching to the test.

BUT

It worked. When we took the post-test on Wednesday, every single student in my class scored mastery or even advanced on this section of the test.

My lesson here?

Sometimes, when the stakes are this high, good teaching is kinda thrown out the window in order to give our students the skills they need to pass the test. Whether or not I agree with the standardized test will not change the fact that my students have to take them. Nor will it change the fact that their scores impact their ability to move on to high school as well as my salary (and bonus).

So, do my students know how to write beautiful bibliographies? No. But, they do know how to use the sample page as a guide to answer a question about which of the four provided citations is correct.

Can they tell you which resource is the best for learning X information? Maybe not. But they do know to check the four resources listed and look for that specific text.

My advice to teachers is to check the department of education's website for your state. Here's a complete listing of released state tests. Sometimes, the problem is that students aren't familiar with the testing format, so I definitely see the value in giving your students practice answering questions that are aligned to your state tests.

March 28, 2013

Free Money for Teachers

Educents is a website dedicated to offering educational resources at 30-90% discounts. I'm not entirely sure, yet, of the products they will offer, but the pre-launch email I received listed curriculum bundles, DVDs, reading kits, software, and even online classes. Definitely worth a visit, I think!

Anyone who registers by Monday, April 1 will receive $10 toward his or her first purchase. And don't worry, registration literally took about one minute.

Click on this link to get your free $10!


March 26, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesday: Article of the Week

Today's Teacher Tip comes from a conference I attended back in 2009 by the fabulous Kelly Gallagher.

If you don't know Mr. Gallagher, you should definitely familiarize yourself with his work. His book, Readicide, talks about how teachers across America are destroying student desire to read. He begs us to reconsider the books we've been teaching, opting for more student choice and more contemporary novels.

Additionally, Mr. Gallagher agrees with the new Common Core push to increase the amount of non-fiction reading in the ELA classroom. I've found this to be especially important in my current teaching position where my students have a very limited schemas, making it difficult for them to comprehend complex texts.

For example, on a recent practice assessment, my students were asked to read an article about the conservation efforts of Roosevelt and Muir. They were then tasked with comparing those efforts to their own toward a cause they support. Several of my students couldn't answer the question because they didn't know what was meant by a cause, and several more were frustrated because they had never supported any cause and did not have any authentic connections to the text.

It's clear to me that our students need more exposure to current events, historical events, and varying worldviews in order to make sense of their reading. In an effort to give them this, I started assigning Articles of the Week. The purpose is to give students high-interest, non-fiction texts about which they will demonstrate comprehension and critical thinking.

Mr. Gallagher posts his AOWs on his website each week, which are great for high school students. For my middle schoolers, though, I often do a lot of my own digging. I've had great success using Junior Scholastic Magazines and my Facebook news feed to find great articles.

I have an AOW center in my classroom each week. Students must show evidence of close readings, which they know requires multiple reads. I ask them to code their text with all of their reading strategies and comments, and then they have to write me a one-page response. The first half of the page is a good summary of the text, and in the second half, they are asked to share their thoughts (I often provide a critical thinking question) with evidence from the text as support.

This is a great Common Core-aligned activity that can really be used in multiple classrooms. For example, math teachers can do a Graph of the Week and social studies teachers can do a Map of the Week. Critical thinking and reading comprehension skills are vital no matter what subject you teach!

March 25, 2013

Where Reading Assessments Fail

Being that I work in a charter school, my administration is very data-driven. They're constantly throwing out numbers at us and asking us to report numbers to them. Then, a couple times a year, just for good measure, they pull us into meetings with our CEO where we have to justify our data. Teachers are asked to outline what we're doing to address the GLEs that have not yet been mastered and how what extra measures we're taking for our lowest students.

The GLE tracker is somewhat a joke for ELA, at least at the 8th grade level, which is highly focused on reading comprehension. Our unit tests and other major assessments are created by our department heads to be aligned to the state test. The problem? They require students to be able to read at grade level.

So, at each meeting, when I'm asked how I use this data, I honestly tell them that I only use it for reporting purposes. It does not inform my instruction because it doesn't accurately measure whether or not my students understand the standards; it only addresses their reading comprehension over and over again. And I already know my students don't read on grade level. I have plenty of data on that!

At my last meeting, my CEO and principal asked me how we can better track ELA (because all of the ELA teachers in my building are reporting this same issue). I told them that if they want to measure the standard, they need to level the reading so students can comprehend the texts.

The problem, though, is that the state standardized tests are exactly the same. It's not a new article, but I just came across There's No Such Thing As a Reading Test, and I feel like shouting from the rooftops, "This is exactly what I've been saying all along!"

Even if the reading level is appropriate, I have no way of knowing the content. This, of course, is a problem because I can't possibly build my students' background knowledge on everything in the world. What I mean by this is that on a science test, all of the reading passages should cover the content in the GLEs. Teachers had an entire school year to build that knowledge and define the appropriate vocabulary. Same for social studies. In ELA, however, my standards include teaching students how to read. And there's no good way to measure that on a standardized test.

The following excerpt from the text demonstrates what I mean:

You have spent the year learning and practicing reading strategies. Your teacher, worried about her performance, has relentlessly hammered test-taking strategies for months.
The test begins, and the very first passage concerns the customs of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. You do not know what a custom is; neither do you know who the Dutch were, or even what a colony is. You have never heard of Amsterdam, old or new. Certainly it's never come up in class. Without background knowledge, you struggle with most of the passages on the test. You never had a chance. 
So, if you don't perform well on this test, does it mean that you can't read? No! Does it mean your ELA teacher is ineffective and unworthy of a job? Of course not! It means the test is flawed. And that's why both teachers and students need better measures of success!

(Tune in tomorrow for a Tuesday Teacher Tip on how to start tackling this issue in your classroom!)

March 24, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

So, technically, it's two weeks past my birthday, but it's still my birthday month, so it's not too late to blog about it, right?

In an effort to keep it real, I will say that my birthday was pretty blah this year. I wasn't really in a celebrating mood, being that I'm nearly 1,000 miles from friends and family. We tried to plan something with friends down here, but I decided against it when it just got to be too stressful.

I have this thing about belonging to a group, and one of the hardest things for me this year has been not belonging. Not that I don't have any friendships; I can get along with pretty much anyone. But I don't have that core group. I feel like all those groups were well established before I got here, and I just kinda tag along with whoever happens to invite me (if anyone does).

All of this is to say that my random friends weren't exactly coming together well for a birthday celebration, so I told Joel just to forget about it. Instead, we joined my coworker, Heidi, at her birthday party the same weekend, and then we celebrated mine with a nice dinner for two.

This weekend, though, my birthday came all over again when I finally received my two presents that I've been anxiously awaiting. My very loving parents gifted me with money toward a new laptop. I'm long overdue for an upgrade, but without their generous help, I don't know if I would have been able to bite the bullet and spring for a new one until the old one completely stopped working (I have a really hard time spending money on myself).

Anyway, after doing some research and asking a lot of questions, I sauntered out of the Apple Store with a brand new MacBook Air yesterday. I have to say, I'm loving it! Now, I just need to find a student to get me a free download of Microsoft Office so I can do my lesson plans.

When we arrived home, my birthday weekend continued with the arrival of a package. I knew instantly that it was the professional waxing kit Joel ordered for me. We literally spent the rest of the day and evening playing with my new toys. The waxing proved to be way more entertaining than I ever thought possible. While not nearly as hairy, Joel did a great Steve Carell impersonation that had me laughing through tears all night long.


Oh, how I love a gift that keeps on giving!

March 21, 2013

Why Middle School Students Shouldn't Date

Middle School teachers everywhere can tell you about the mess that comes along with the dating lives of their students. For many, having a boyfriend/girlfriend during these years is little more than a title and someone to text every night. For others, though, the behavior is much more... mature. And those relationships tend to accompany quite a bit of drama.

My favorite example happened this past August between one of our favorite on-again, off-again couples in the middle of my instruction. I was mid-sentence when I heard raised voices from the back of the classroom. To be honest, it happened so quickly that all I heard was:

B****, it ain't my fault you had two n***** up in your p**** in one month!

Well, it ain't my fault you can't handle yours!

Nice, huh?

While this outburst definitely takes the cake for Most Inappropriate, it is far from the only relationship drama I encounter. The flirting, break ups, make ups... I could fill the pages of novels with their stories. 

Pamela Orpinas, head of the Department of Health Promotion and Behavior at UGA, recently released the results of her seven-year study of adolescent relationships, which suggest that middle school students should refrain from dating

Her research reveals that teens who date "are four times more likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to drink and smoke marijuana, and tend to have worse teacher-reported study habits." It seems as though the earlier a child starts to date, the earlier he or she tends to partake in other risky behaviors. And with all of the emphasis on these... extra-curricular... activities, there seems to be less of a focus on academics. 

I can't wait to share this with my students! I'm sure they're going to have plenty to say in rebuttal!

March 20, 2013

Middle School College Visit

First of all, I want to send a shout out to all the visitors from Teaching Maddeness! Welcome to my little blog! I'm super excited to connect with you guys and hope you'll let me know you stopped by!

Today was the 8th grade college trip to Louisiana State University. This is our PBIS reward for students who maintained $80 paycheck averages for third quarter in Kickboard. Of the three schools we visited this year, LSU was definitely the most popular choice. Many of our students live right near the campus, and they follow the football and basketball teams pretty religiously around here.

I was a little bummed when we boarded the buses in the rain, and I realized it was cooler outside than I expected from the forecast. Luckily, my amazingly selfless boyfriend agreed to meet us at the campus with my hoodie, socks, and gym shoes so I could change.

The kids were very impressed with the fast food options in the student union, which made me laugh! I don't know about your students, but mine are always hungry! They never have money for school supplies, but if you pass a concession stand or vending machine, the cash magically appears! haha!

We were fortunate enough to be the very first tour group for our guide, Lauren, who showed us all the cool things on campus like Mike the Tiger and the new Shaq statue. We also learned about the tradition of couples kissing at Memorial Tower at midnight for Valentine's Day. You know... all the important college stuff! Haha! (Don't worry, we saw libraries and lecture halls too!)

The sun came out shortly after we started our tour, and it ended up being a beautiful day. It was a perfect excuse to get out of the classroom together before heading into our last round of review for Phase 2 of the LEAP test.

March 19, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesdays

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that this post has been sitting in my drafts folder since December... back when I set my blogging goals for the new year. One of those goals, you may recall, is to be more intentional about contributing to the teaching blog community. I want to have more focus in my writing, which is easier now that I have my own classroom again, and I want to make sure I'm sharing ideas instead of just taking from others.

To that end, I'm starting a new series, I'm calling Teacher Tip Tuesdays. My goal is to share at least one great teaching idea with you each week. I promise not to tantalize you with great ideas just to send you over to TPT to buy my products... that's not my purpose. (In fact, at this time, all of my TPT items are FREE!) I just want to share what's worked for me in hopes that it might work for someone else. 

If you have a great Teaching Tip that you'd like to have featured on my series, I'd love to hear from you! My contact information is available in the About Me tab.

I started a new tab, Teaching Tips, where you can find links to my favorite archived tips. I've already archived several of my old posts for your reading pleasure.

Be sure to check back each week for new ideas! 

Phase One is Done

Today was Phase 1 of our state standardized test, which included the writing portion of the ELA test and constructed response for math. While we were not allowed to test our own students (new rule for this year), I did check in with several of my kiddos during lunch.

That test was WAY easier than the practice essays you made us write!

I use SO many text examples!

I took my time, did brainstorming, AND a rough draft!

I gave them specific examples from my own life, just like they asked!

I used the dictionary AND big words!

I checked the prompt and made sure I had one paragraph for each question they asked!

If the rest of the test is this easy, I KNOW I'll pass eighth grade!

What I heard was:

I tried really hard!

I felt really prepared!

I hope you're proud of me!

And I am proud of them. The other teachers reported that my students worked the entire time. It was apparent that they were putting a lot of thought into their writing, and I heard great reports about underlining important ideas and making notes in the margins.

It feels good to know that my kids can buckle down and take their tests seriously when it really matters. And they're obviously paying attention to my suggestions. I sure hope it pays off!

We have a few weeks left to prepare for Phase 2, which will include 4 more days of testing (including the reading portion of the ELA test).

March 18, 2013

Curious Minds

When you're a white teacher working with a population of students that's about 99.9% black, whose communities are also almost exclusively black, you will be the subject of much scrutiny. Not necessarily in the ways you'd think, either.

How can your hair be curly one day and straight the next?

Why do you wash your hair every day? 

How come your hair is so silky?

Where are your tracks?

How long does it take to grow your hair out that long?

Do you wrap your hair at night?

Can you put your hair up in a messy bun? I want to watch!

Can you put it in two braids? (I said no to this request, reminding them that I'm not, in fact, 5 years-old.)

Do white people get ashy?

How come your face turns red when you cough or sneeze?

Are those contacts? (Referring to my green eyes)

I've had more conversations than I ever thought possible about my hair. Boys and girls alike are full of questions about white hair. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that my students are constantly touching mine, especially if I flat iron it. In the beginning of the year, they were seriously looking for some hidden tracks (despite the fact that I have the super thin hair), but now it's more about the texture. They just can't get enough of it. I even catch some of the boys playing with my hair as we walk down the hallway. Some of my girls even think a good behavior reward would be staying with me after school to play with my hair!

Who knew I was such an anomaly?!

Clearly, their inquisitive little minds want explanations for the differences they see in me. There are days when my co-teacher, who is black, and I literally laugh out loud when we see their reactions to what we tell them. When we told them, for example, that getting a "perm" for a white girl meant making your hair curly instead of straight, they were floored. I swear their eyes were going to pop out of their heads! haha!

I remember having a similar reaction in college when I watched one of my black friends spray grease into her hair for the first time. I couldn't grasp the concept, as my main goal in life seems to be ridding my own hair from grease. It's funny to see that my students are just as clueless!

March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Dressed in green for the parade

After experiencing the fun of Baton Rouge parades during Mardi Gras, Joel and I made plans to partake in the St. Patrick's Day festivities yesterday.

 It was a beautiful day, and I'm pleased to report that my face is a bit sun-kissed from our hours outside. Not that I can complain about a little sunburn in March when I know my friends and family back home are still wearing their winter coats. Sorry, Chicago, but I'll take 80 degrees and sunny over snow fluries any day!

We stopped at a bathroom on the walk back to our car where I overheard two ladies, clearly not from the area, talking about how the parades down here aren't very aesthetically pleasing. In a way, I guess they're right. The goal of any parade here is to collect as many beads as possible. I'll be honest and say that I hardly notice the floats at all, except to say that there was a running theme of teasing Manti Teo ("Irish I had a girlfriend!" was one example).

My intended Mardi Gras wreath project
I had a goal for this parade to collect very specific beads. I want to create a Mardi Gras wreath from my parade loot, but since we attended the one Spanish Town, I walked away with far more pink strands than any other color. So, this time, I was on a mission to collect green, purple, and gold. And, of course, any of the beads with trinkets.

After the parade, Joel and I decided to stop by a local burger joint because we'd heard rave reviews from some of my coworkers. While the food was decent, we think it may have made us sick. Within a few hours, we were both complaining of headaches and stomach aches, and I even vomited a couple times. Obviously, it put a damper on our evening, and we ended up in bed before 9:00.

Thankfully, we're both feeling much better today. I have lesson plans to create, and then we're going shopping for some treats for my students. One of my classes won their 100 Chart reward on Friday, and I also want to stock up on some mints for my kiddos for Phase 1 of the LEAP test this Tuesday.

March 13, 2013

Guest Post - My Perspective on Education

My friend, Samara, over at at Simplicity in the Suburbs asked me to write a guest post to kick off her new blog series: My Perspective on Education. I'm not going to lie; I'm pretty excited to be being featured on someone else's blog. It makes me feel like a legit blogger or something! haha


This will be a weekly series in which teachers from all over the world are invited to share their perspectives, the good, bad, and ugly. Whether you teach in a public or private setting, kindergarten or higher education, home school or Montessori, domestically or abroad... whatever your experience, you certainly have something to add to this conversation. What a great way to bring diverse experiences together so we can learn from each other!

Click on the button above for more details about how to enter your own post.

And don't forget to check back regularly (or subscribe to her blog, of course) to follow the series!!

Classroom Management Tip - 100 Chart

I know we're all always looking for new ideas to manage our classrooms, so I wanted to share this idea, which I implemented in January, because it's been working really well for me.

100 Chart

Setup: Make a 100 chart for each class. I was lucky enough to have my building tech print one for me, but you can easily make your own or purchase one from your local teacher supply store. You can personalize this with class names or colors to make it more personal or to fit your classroom theme. You may choose to laminate your charts so they can be reused as well. 

You also need some sort of manipulative, numbered 1-100. You can use blocks, craft sticks, poker chips, cards, etc. I found some colorful, mini, wooden blocks at the craft store and numbered them myself with a permanent marker. I store my blocks in a plant pot on my desk so they're easy to grab at any time. 

Directions: Anytime 100% of the class is following your directions (responding to your attention signal, pulling out a needed material by the end of your countdown, staying on task during a specific activity, meeting a class academic goal, etc.), you pull a block and cross of the corresponding number on the chart. 

Goal: When the class earns a full row or column (like Tic-Tac-Toe), they earn a class reward. This can be a class party, a free homework pass, a special treats, or any other incentive that you decide. I had my students brainstorm some ideas, and I allow them to choose a reward from the list when they win. Once the class wins, you can start a new chart (wipe off or hang a new poster) so the class is always working toward a reward.

Challenge: If you teach multiple sections (or if your kiddos need more of a competitive edge for buy-in), you can make it a "race" to see which class makes the goal first. I haven't done this in my classroom because I don't want any classes to slack off because they lose hope, but it may work for others, so I'm sill throwing out the idea.

Why I Love It: The best thing about the 100 Chart is that I don't have to do nearly as much nagging redirecting. My students, especially when they're soooo close to getting a reward, are quick to remind their peers to stay on task or follow my direction because they know they need 100% participation to get a block.

SUGGESTIONS: 
1. Make sure you use a special marker that students cannot access so they don't cheat. (I know my kids aren't the only sneaky little buggers!)
2. You can appoint a student (class job?) to be in charge of reminding you (with a nonverbal signal) to pull blocks if you're forgetful.
3. Once a class gets a lot of blocks, you will pull the same number. You can combat this by having separate containers for used/unused numbers, but I just shake up the pot and pull another because I don't want to have to worry about 6 different pots!

If you have any questions, please let me know!!

March 11, 2013

Another Teacher Resigns


This was recently on the news, and I wanted to hear your reactions. Abby Breaux is a long-time teacher in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. She is frustrated with the lack of discipline in today's schools and has decided to join several other teachers nation-wide who are leaving the education field because she's simply had enough.
Please take a moment to read her letter to the school board and let me know your thoughts. Do you agree? Are good teachers being pushed out of education? What should be done to stop it?
_________________________________________________________________________
Letter to Lafayette Parish School Board: March 6, 2013
I feel that we as teachers have really had enough, and that someone needs to finally speak up. My name is Abby Breaux and I have been teaching for 25 years in Lafayette Parish, yet no one in this room knows me because no one here has ever come to the schools in which I've taught and just asked me, "What do you as a teacher think?"
I keep hearing statements that only ineffective teachers are leaving the system. This upsets me. Many, and I mean many, teachers like me who have been evaluated as effective and highly effective for many years by their administration are leaving the public schools. These are teachers that have been elected Teacher of the Year, LEF winners, and many have received other awards. Even more than that, we have played a part in hundreds of thousands of students becoming great citizens and grownups! Teachers have also been criticized for leaving during the year, for interrupting the students learning. But, these teachers have had enough, and many are actually getting physically sick and can't make it to the end.
Teachers are not the bad guys here. You tell society that we have three months off in the summer and get off at 3:30 in the afternoon. Well, I can tell you for a fact that we work at least 10 months a year. What about all the teachers that either get to school early or stay late? We give up a lot of time for our school children- sometimes our students are getting more time than our families. What about all of us who still after 25 or more years, are working all day and then are working more hours at night? What about all the hours we volunteer to coach, chaperone dances, plan field trips, and sponsor clubs? We stay late after school for meetings and programs, and we are constantly grading papers, at night, on weekends, and even on vacations. We attend in-services for either no or minimal pay in the summer or on weekends. Not to mention all of our OWN MONEY we spend on students. I can't tell you how many THOUSANDS of dollars I have spent over the years for science and social studies supplies for my classroom alone. Buying our own paper and ink, team celebrations, class rewards, incentives, classroom decorations, primary sources, books, etc.... And if you think that doesn't happen. Again, ask a real classroom teacher! So don't tell me that teachers don't care!
No one ever really asks us what the real problems are, nor do they ask US how to solve them.
You've hired people from a state that is #50 in the rankings to fill our positions. I could almost understand if you got someone from a state ranked in the top 10! We have plenty of experience and highly qualified professionals right here in Lafayette Parish. If they are not applying for the job, then the question needs to be asked. WHY?
You make us pilot all of these new programs year after year that have been tried already (just under another name), not worked-and tried again. We keep reinventing the wheel! I hear often that teachers don't teach any more. We don't! You have made us information pushers, test givers, and paper passer outers. LET US TEACH!!! You have taken all of this away. You give us a new common core curriculum that is almost impossible to finish in a year, and now you slide in Compass, new evaluations, JPams, and On Course all in a single year, and all which require more time that we just don't have. You are setting teachers up to fail. Teaching was once a noble and creative profession. Learning was once fun! If you want kids to stay in school, make them want to come!!!
Our jobs should not depend on two lessons a year. Principals should be able to walk into a classroom any time and do a true evaluation. To tell children that OUR jobs depend on them-well you are giving the students the "upper hand"! They now have the power and they know it. I have heard some students say that they are not even going to try on the standardize tests. They are even "out" for some teachers and are going to score low on purpose. Many students won't do their homework or study for tests-WHY? They know they won't fail because of your policies. You have made it all about "what the teacher needs to do" instead of "what the student needs to do!" HOLD them responsible! Would a doctor lose his job if his diabetic patient didn't follow their recommendations for losing weight when that patient is hospitalized for his/her choices? Of course not! The educational system is no different. We should not be held responsible for apathy and wrong choices!
If you really want to change one thing in our school system-start with discipline: SIMPLE nothing else, just DISCIPLINE. Follow through from first grade on up to twelfth grade. Be consistent, give consequences. Teachers should not be repeating rules to the same students over and over again. If you would listen to experienced teachers who have good discipline, it works and learning is going on. No fancy programs, no bells and whistles, just the teacher in charge. Stop moving students from school to school. This just dilutes other schools!
You are hiding the problems-NOT solving them! The same students that we saw get away with the "little infractions" over and over, and over again, are the same students that end up in the paper under "local arrests". We are not here to be popular or please parents, we are here to teach children. Small things like uniforms, gum chewing, and tardies may seem small to you, but to a classroom teacher they are the small things that lead to larger problems like disrespect. If you don't back us up on these issues, the students know it and lose respect for us. Don't give in half way through the year, or keep changing things. Follow through. Back your teachers up! You have taken our "power" away. No Discipline=No Teaching-Period!
You have basically taken "morals" and work ethics out of ours schools, yet now our tax money is paying for students to go to private schools where they teach morals and work ethics. I believe we should bring BOTH back to our schools, and this will bring our students back as well.
You want save one child by not removing them from the classroom or campus because you don't want THAT child to miss out on learning, but you are doing a TOTAL injustice to the average and above average students who want to learn and know how to behave. The others are NOT learning because teachers are spending their time repeatedly correcting, constantly documenting, meeting one on one, and conferencing with the one child who chooses not to behave. I have about 10 daily behavior plans with only 2 out of the 10 working. Why is this? There is no follow through at home! Teachers work harder than the parents and the child to help that child succeed. If you do not think this is true, again, just ask a classroom teacher!
All teachers are different and that is what makes public education so special. Students get the affection, nurturing, life lessons, and education from each of them over their twelve years. Some experiences will be good, some not so good, but that is called life!!! Children need to learn to cope! They need this skill for the rest of their lives, so they can become good problem solvers on their own and not have everything catered and changed to their every desire. Having their parents just being able to call the central office and have teachers give in to "solve the problem" to make it easier for the child is not a coping skill. You are doing the students and parents a total injustice.
Computers have been an asset in the classroom as a learning tool for students. The school board and state however seem to have incorporated them as tools for teachers to do more meaningless work! We should have computers and laptops for the students to use as resources, not for teachers to type and retype and retype again. You would not want us asking students to redo a project three times and then never grade it. Why do you keep giving us surveys and paperwork that you will never read? A perfect example is our VAM Evaluations! All of this is taking away from our teaching time!
Is there a reason why we in Lafayette Parish (a parish that has MONEY compared to most) still cannot get enough books for our students in the classroom, yet we have money to waste on silly job positions and in services. This is not just this year or last year; this has been an ongoing occurrence. Teachers should not have to scrape and scramble for books and paper every year! To you this might be minor, but for us, the classroom teachers, this is a major issue and affects morale.
If you think getting rid of experienced classroom teachers is the answer, then shame on you! It takes experienced teachers to help new, inexperienced teachers with the overwhelming burdens of classroom management, helping with background knowledge of the information being taught, and learning how to build relationships with the students and the community that these students come from. There is SO much more to teaching then getting in front of a class and giving a lesson!
Personally, I was hoping to teach for at least 30 years, but because of all these new evaluation policies, fear of retirement issues, and feeling constantly threatened that if I don't do "this or that" I will lose my job, I and many others have had enough and feel the need to leave. I LOVE TEACHING and never thought this day would come. I love working with kids. You have basically pushed me and many excellent, effective teachers out of the education field or into the private sector with all of your useless paperwork and lack of follow through. I know I may get some "recoil" for what I am saying today, but what I am saying is the truth, and it is something that most teachers say and think every day. Many are afraid to speak up and this is something that I too have been holding in for years because of the same reason. Please, sit down with the CLASSROOM teachers and work with them. But above all, GO TO A CLASSROOM! Don't choose a "favored, high scoring" school. Go to a struggling school and observe a classroom. Better yet, since you are supposed to be people of "service", substitute in a classroom. Your eyes will be opened to how difficult it is to do this job on a daily basis.
I am very proud to have worked with the many amazing and hardworking teachers, administrators and staff over the years in Lafayette Parish. We want a positive system and a system that continues to improve as much or even MORE than you. We would really like for you to not only hear us, but make some necessary changes.
Thank you,
Abby Breaux

March 7, 2013

Crunch Time

Everyone I know is preparing for spring break next week. I know Mardi Gras wasn't long ago, but I really could use another break right about now. I am exhausted!

Tomorrow marks the end of third quarter (yippee... we're in the home stretch!), which means grading is due by Sunday. But since my birthday is this weekend, I refuse to bring home any work, so I have to get everything done by 2:35 tomorrow. 

It's amazing how all the missing assignments start to appear out of the woodwork the week grades are due. Oh, sure, I'll take the reading response I've been harassing you about since the end of January. No problem! Oh, now you want a fourth copy of that worksheet that was due six weeks ago? Of course. Let me drop everything I'm doing to make you another copy. 

And then... silly me... I didn't realize how quickly the end of the term was approaching, and I had to set a due date for our 80 point poetry anthology. With 15 poems and 10 literary devices to assess for each student, this is no small feat. I set a deadline for this past Wednesday.

And then Wednesday came, and it became abundantly clear to me that my students needed more time. Obviously, they think I'm joking when I say I want their anthologies to reflect their best effort and pride. 

No, I will not accept that sloppy writing!

When have you ever seen a published book written in pencil?

Please stop pretending you've never been taught how to use spell check!

Stapling together notebook paper that has been hastily ripped from your spiral (fringe still attached) does not make a poetry book.

Ugh!

So, being the generous teacher I am, I extended the deadline and decided to give them one more day of workshop time. 

Except that even by the end of today, only about 25% of the anthologies were submitted. I even kept an entire class from PE today (with teacher permission, of course) to give them three full periods with me (since they missed my class 4 times in the past week for testing), and I still only ended up with two anthologies from that group by the end of the day.

Have I mentioned that this assignment is 80 points?

Even if they all walk in with beautiful anthologies tomorrow (I'm not holding my breath), I don't know where I'm going to find the time to get all this grading done. Especially because I have an IEP meeting during my planning period tomorrow. 

I may be bribing some of my best students to stay with me during their ancillary classes to help with some of the grading. It's amazing what kids will do for a jolly rancher! haha

March 3, 2013

Currently March 2013

So, I'm a little late to this month's party, but I wanted to link up with Farley's Currently for March. I've learned about so many great teaching blogs from her site, so I wanted to make sure I participated again this month.
 

Listening: The Best Songs of The 90s on VH1. Ahhh, the good old days when music videos actually dominated music channels. I love how a good song can take you instantly back to a specific moment in time and you can relive the experience. The 90s were a great decade!

Loving: Lazy Sundays in bed. We've been watching TV, listening to music, playing on the computer, lesson planning, talking, and now blogging all day from our bed. I can't do this all the time, but sometimes, it feels SO good!

Thinking: About how much I want to be with my BFF right now. You may recall that she is pregnant with twins and due this month. I want, so badly, to be home with her so I can celebrate their births when they happen. It's killing me to be so far away for such a milestone in her life.

Wanting: A week of relaxation on a beach somewhere. I'm hoping we can make something work for spring break... at the end of April.

Needing: Testing season to be over!! When you work in a charter school, it seems the pressure is highest of all because it's on the chopping block each year, and we have to prove ourselves every step of the way. Our kids just took their THIRD round of practice testing (three days each) last week, and I know they're so overwhelmed by the pressure to do well on these tests. Unfortunately, the pressure is going to be around for another month until we're done with both phases of the assessments.

Like, Love, Hate: email (there are some things that just can't be said in a text), education (duh!), and endings (change is hard for me)