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© Megan Bedford – flickr.com

     I am the Queen of Procrastination.   My friend Lisa – another first-year teacher who does not blog and is therefore not linked here – claimed this title on Facebook but I dispute her claim.   I have had two weeks off from school and have successfully avoided almost all contact with my job since before the Solstice.  I did go to work one day last week to grade notebooks, update my bulletin boards, and otherwise get ready for the return in this new year.   However, I have not accomplished any of the other projects on my list and have even skipped checking my calendar (this practice caused me to miss a reunion with old friends – big disappointment for me).  

     The break has been good.  I reacquainted myself with my good friend Sleep and have discovered and resolved to continue the benefits that come from being well rested.  I’ve been reading a book – gasp! – by Barbara Kingsolver;  this endeavour has been proceeding at a snail’s pace due to the number of other activities with which I have filled my vacation.   It started with Christmas preparation, included a trip to visit family in New England, and incorporated various other celebrations including Solstice and New Year – the former much preferred to the latter but sometimes you have to go with the flow.

      Anyway, my time of procrastination is over and today, I dove right back in – knowing full well that my wonderful, exciting responsibility to teach my students would again consume every waking moment.   Have I mentioned that I do my best thinking in the shower?    We will dive back in to reproduction/genetics/differentiation/selection/evolution/human body systems….    I love it!    My “To Do” lists however are stretching from here to way over there.  

     Bracing for blast off!

 

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Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

© Michael Frank – istockphoto.com

    Literally, that is what I’m thinking about as I try to figure out what to do with my classroom setup.    Right now, the room is a mess with books, papers, notebooks, scattered everywhere.   I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for chaos but I can’t work in this room.   I am sharing a room with an art teacher.   She teaches two periods at the beginning of the day while I teach one class in another science classroom.    It’s not too bad to teach one class in another classroom but the fact that my primary classroom is an art room and not conducive to science learning IS a problem.

     The tables are set up in a horseshoe pattern which means most of the kids have to turn their neck 90 degrees to see what is being presented – long narrow room.   Why would a 7th grader do that when there are other 7th grade students – far more interesting than the teacher – in the most direct line of sight?   I need to change this but it will probably mean a lot of furniture moving for me on a daily basis.   The art teacher is not interested in change.

    On Thursday, in one of my classes, some of my students were throwing small bits of crayons that they found on the floor at each other;  thus, the reference to hand grenades in the title.  They thought they were being sly but I knew they were doing it, the problem was that it was about eight boys.   If I cast my eyes down slightly to write on the overhead, somebody threw something.   A 12-year old boy is quick and deft but still looks guilty as sin.    This class got to sit quietly the next day and work in review books so that I could watch them carefully.   If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped the lesson immediately and gone to review books.  The problem is that if I turned my back to get the review books, World War III would have broken out.    The art teacher says that neither she nor the students should have to clean up crayon pieces on the floor because that’s what happens in an art room.    On Friday, I swept the floor after the art class left to get rid of the ammunition.

     None of the behavioral issues are a surprise.  We will get there.   The school was closed when I went over today to organize my classroom.   On Monday, I will turn the tables to row seating.   The goal is learning pods where active, engaged students do group projects.    I am having trouble seeing that from here.

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Exhausted

     Too many meetings and too much administrative paperwork but this will pass and it will get better.  

  • Day 1 – met with another teacher for an hour then headed downtown to fill out paperwork and sign a contract (Yay!).   It wasn’t ready but even so process took over an hour.     Mandatory parent meeting for Techboy’s swim team, then required attendance for another group with which Sportsboy is involved.
  • Day 2 – got to spend a little time organizing classroom, then back downtown to finish paperwork, get ID, etc.    That evening included two hour-long parent meeting about math;  not mandatory but given the struggles my kids are having with math, essential.
  • Day 3 – department meeting from 1:30-2:30, meeting with another teacher 2:30-3:30, mandatory meeting  including terrific presentation about classroom management from 4-6  then back to my classroom to organize, think about tomorrow, and pack up the work to bring home.  Home by 7 PM – need to plan for tomorrow.

     It is going well.  We are at the early stages and we are still building connections, structure, and community.     They say that the four stages of group development are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing;  we are definitely still in the Storming phase.     However, it is going well – as well as it could given that I was dropped in with basically no notice, curriculum, resources or anything on Monday morning.   I like the kids.   They have  been through a lot – teacher leaving after a little over two months, sub for a week and a half, then a restart with a new teacher.

     7th-grade Science in this district is a spiral curriculum.   This year will be about half Biology, then some Earth Science followed by Physics.   I might get to do a bit of Chemistry with the Honors class but that’s it.    I’m still very happy and excited, but I’m hoping to get to bed before midnight and wondering if there is any coffee left in the coffee maker.

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Substitute Teaching

© Diane Diederich – istockphoto.com

      I have been substitute teaching 1-2 days/week, mostly with the 8th graders that I taught fall semester during my first student teaching block.  I don’t know how teachers get over giving their students up to the next year, another grade, and new teachers year after year.   These were the first students that I taught and they will forever be important to me.

      Today, I subbed for their Math teacher.  It was odd to spend so much of my day on testing – NY State Social Studies Test for the first two sets, NY Regents practice test with the next class, review book with AIS students, and a practice test with the accelerated class.   Yes, there were three tracks today in 8th grade and the 10th graders were part of a one-year course spread to three-semesters to help students be successful on the NY State Regents test that has become a requirement for graduation.   Perhaps this plan was partly due to having a sub but at least two of these activities were on the preprinted calendars for the class.

       It was most amusing that the students assumed I wouldn’t be able to help them with math.  The comments today included:

  • “I didn’t finish my quiz because I ran into a problem and didn’t think you’d know how to help me.”
  • Another girl was questioning a problem involving graphing a formula.  I provided two options:  1) solve the problem algebraically to be as close as possible to y = mx + b and graph that, or 2) leave the formula in its initial form and make a table of possible x and y values, then graph them.  She told me that she would take the quiz home for help from her father.   I told her that it wasn’t a take-home test and her regular teacher would help the next day.
  • Another group didn’t believe my explanation that trig was involved in a triangle-depth problem until two other student groups confirmed it.  They all expressed surprise that I remember sohcahtoa and knew how to use it!

        Tonight I have the pleasure of reading Paolo Friére for my last class of my master’s degree.   It was a nice antidote to a day in a middle school classroom.   I am continually amazed by his description of man’s inhumanity to man but deeply inspired by his thoughts on critical literacy and pedagogy.   In any classroom, probably in any group of people, there is oppression and a need to examine its structures and practices.   From Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friére, 1970), “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.”  I look forward to having my own classroom.

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INNOVATION

     I’m not feeling very innovative right now but I’m thinking a lot about color.  Tomorrow, I am starting a unit on acids and bases with a demonstration of indicators which should be very cool.   I’m supposed to be doing the final touches on making this unit innovative.    I’m stuck on some of the assessment pieces and the pacing of it.    I think I’ve been moving too fast without enough scaffolding and explicit instruction.

     Have I mentioned that my students didn’t do so well on their last test?   As far as they are concerned, having a student teacher is enough innovation.   If I do anything too unusual, the attendance numbers will probably take another steep nosedive which is why I’m also working on engagement and relevance.

     Two more weeks of student teaching and there is still so much to learn.   I know the learning takes years but I want to do a great job, right now, for these students.

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The Vernal Equinox

Happy First Day of Spring!

[Chives trying – stepping stones swept]

     You have to have a sense of humor to live on the North Coast of the US.   A brief but persistent snow squall overnight reminded me that the Vernal Equinox and Spring are not necessarily synonymous here.    I have long told my kids that Groundhog Day is a joke; where we live, you are going to have six more weeks of winter whether that pesky groundhog sees his shadow or not.   Perhaps I need to work a bit harder on that Shiny, Happy Person thing.

     Yesterday was science fair day – both at the school where I teach and at the school my children attend.   Both schools had some amazing projects and some so-so projects.  All the projects at large urban HS where where I teach were clearly done by students.   Some of the projects at my community’s school were clearly done by parents.   One of the science teachers told me a story about a student in tears because he couldn’t set up his project on time – his dad was at work finishing it.   Sigh.

     It’s been a good week at school.   There was a bit more conflict than I like, but with adolescents there always seem to be boundary skirmishes.  The week ended with an assessment of a long unit starting with water, a brief tour of moles, and then solutions.   I wish my students had done better;  I need to do some thinking and adjusting. 

     It’s odd not to be teaching on a Friday.  It’s a conference day but nobody could figure out how to register me or if I was included for this event.    I went in to school this morning to make sure that all grades were in for the end of the marking period but am spending the afternoon planning for next week and getting organized for the rest of the semester.   Science Friday is discussing Darwin’s work and there are sunbeams.   Life is good.

     Happy Vernal Equinox!   The light is changing swiftly.

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Wrapping Up Stars

      I give up.  I’ve tried to load a pic for two days now and, once again, it’s not working.   Perhaps it’s time to apply to do my grad school blog in another venue.   No pics.   No fun.   Just a few hours of frustration at the end of the semester when I don’t even have 10 minutes to spare.   I’ve changed browsers, rebooted the computer, resized the picture, rebooted again, cleaned my cache/cookies/general flossing of internet stuff, defragged the hard disk, checked the settings, rebooted again.  These things have working in the past on this apparently fragile blog host.     I give up.

      This is my mandatory Stars post for the week.   I will miss these wonderful girls that we have been working with for the last 10 weeks.   We had a good session on Tuesday and the girls made a PowerPoint presentation, did the graphic design for a poster presentation, and developed an intereactive presentation involving kids at the presentation conference tomorrow.   I need to go glue a bunch of stuff on a trifold which is another thing for which I do not have time.   Have I mentioned that it’s the end of the semester?  and my son’s birthday party is tonight? and I needed to check in at my observation today? and little things like uploading a picture should not take hours…

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