One reason I love 8th graders

So when anyone asks me what I do and I say I’m a teacher the next question is invariably what do you teach. I say 8th grade English and watch the wincing and cringing and hear “you’re brave” “you’re crazy” and other variations. I love middle school, and I love teaching eighth graders, well for the most part. The utter laziness I see from some makes me nuts but hey they then get to deal with annoying Mrs. D bugging them in class and out to get their work done so in a way that’s fun.

One of the best things about eighth graders is that they truly are becoming more aware of the world around them. Years ago teaching propaganda techniques during election season I had students investigate the senatorial candidate pages. I distinctly remember one student coming in saying negative things about a candidate, clearly parroting what had been heard at home, by the end of class that student had changed their mind about the candidate. Yeah I waited for a phone call on that one lol.

So being election season again and a particularly contentious one at that I’ve had my my students writing letters to the candidates for their journals. The first was a letter about the attack ads in light of the fact that students are taught not to bully and to treat others as they want to be treated. Some of those letters were wonderful.

Their most recent journal asked them to share with the candidates the one issue they felt was the most important and should be addressed first when the winner takes office. I LOVE the responses, and even more I LOVE the number of my students who went looking for statistics to support their issue. It give me great hope for the future when I see the issues my kids think are important. It also frustrates me even more when I see constant comments online about the liberal indoctrination occurring in schools. I know I’ve worked with teachers who covered a great deal of the political spectrum, from very conservative, to very liberal, and everything in between including those that align with third parties.

Personally I tell my students my job is to teach them how to think and make decisions based on facts and research not what to think. I tell them I don’t care who they vote for but that when they do become old enough and register to vote to please be educated voters. After reading these letters I have hopes that they will do exactly that.

Here is a list of issues my students feel need to be addressed:

  • homelessness, specifically homeless vets
  • gun control, both sides of this were presented
  • body shaming/eating disorders/dress codes
  • illegal immigrants, again both sides were shared allowing and banning
  • schools safety, tied to some of the gun control letters
  • the national debt (WOW! yes two students talked about their concern about our national debt)
  • inequality/racism/sexism/homophobia/genderism etc
  • teacher pay (nope I didn’t even mention this, that was all my kids, yep I love them 😉
  • asking the people what they think should be first addressed bc said student has no interest in politics, thought this was a good suggestion but no idea how it would actually work
  • gas prices
  • homicides
  • unemployment and underemployment
  • military and education funding, as in pay them all more
  • legalize marijuana
  • environment
  • cost of school supplies
  • and a request to explain everything they said or claimed about the other candidate.

Yep, I think my kids, though they may not all agree on the issues, are a bright spot for our future. Well if we can all get past this ridiculous Killer Clown thing that is smh

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A Teacher’s Plea to Other Teachers

Please oh please when you use my classroom show me the same respect I show you.  The last thing I do when working in someone else’s room is have the kids clean up, put things back where they found them or where they belong.  Sometimes the room is left looking better than when we came in.  Show me the same courtesy and leave my room looking as neat as it was when you and your class walked in.

When given a directive from higher up (principal or district) please follow it, especially when it is in regards to students.  If we’re all given the same directions we should all be on the same page this makes life easier for us and for our students.  It is incredibly frustrating to have to spend time explaining why something is supposed to be done a certain way if you don’t do the same thing.  I really don’t like feeling like the bad guy because I won’t let the kids do something they’re not supposed to.

Be flexible.  I know how much it stinks to have to give up your room to someone else on your plan time.  In my last classroom position my room was used by an encore/elective/ exploratory class at least half of the year, one year it was in use for three quarters.  This meant that not only did I not have my room for my plan time, often if something happened and that teacher had to be elsewhere I subbed the class meaning I had NO plan time that day.  I get that it’s easier when you can be in your room with your supplies but if it’s for one plan time in a week or just a few in the year please just go with the flow!

Be grateful.  This is something I’ve discovered, no matter the school situation you are in there are things to be grateful for.  In a small district I was able to get to know my students and their families better than in a large district as I was fortunate enough to have kids for three years and have siblings.  I felt that I got to know my co-workers better as there were fewer of us.  I got to have more of a say on what went on in the school and the district, participating in and co-chairing the district calendar committee, participating in the district salary committee.  In a large district classroom teachers often don’t have to do lunch, recess, or bus duty.  There is someone in my building now and the last two buildings I’ve worked in that does the copying and laminating for the teachers so they don’t have to take the time to do it.  Little things like that can make a big difference.  Also in a large district many times your substitutes are certified teachers, nearly guaranteed if you are going on long-term leave.  This is a blessing, believe me (see my maternity leave sub experience post).  So take a look at what you have no matter what it is and take time to be thankful for it!

Look for the positive in every student and if you talk to their next year teacher share that information not the negative or at the very least share that as well.   Give every student that comes through your door a clean slate.  Let them start fresh, don’t rely on the tales you’ve heard about them from other teachers.  I have had students other teachers simply couldn’t get along with and I had absolutely no issues with those students.  Then again I had students I struggled with and I found as I continued to try to find the positive, tried to identify their strengths our relationship improved.

Just like I ask parents, please don’t ever compare students to siblings of theirs you’ve had before.  You know you don’t like it when kids whine and complain that Mrs. So and So never did it this way or Mr. Thus and Such wasn’t like that, so don’t do it to students.  Each child is a unique individual treat them as such.

Please read your e-mails carefully and when you see something that regards your class schedule make a note of it in your plan book, on a post-it in clear site, tell your class so they can remind you, or a combination there of.  It makes the day run so much smoother if you keep track of these things, I know I’ve written down the wrong time or misremembered it from an e-mail and lost class time due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Similarly if you have to make a change that effects another teacher let them know.  I just made this mistake yesterday, there had been a change in my schedule and I forgot to pass that information on.  My students lost class time as we had to switch locations.  I quickly hopped on the computer to let everyone else know what the changes were.

Leave seating charts with your sub plans.  I have heard more students called: you, um you in the pink shirt, yes you in the blue by subs because the teacher had no seating chart.  I’m also guilty of having done this but after observing it happen and feeling bad because every child deserves to be called by their name I’ve tried to rectify this.  Currently my classes do not have a seating chart written because they sit in alphabetical order around the room with their class number matching their seat number, well that and the wonderful gal that subs my classes knows the majority of the kids in the building already.

Similar to above if you’re changing what you’re planning to teach and that effects someone else let them know.  I had spoken to a certain grade level earlier this year about a project they always do as I wanted to do something with the same information in my classes.  I was told go ahead and do whatever I wanted because they weren’t doing that project this year, they were teaching the unit differently.  Then came the day I planned to start the project and I found out from the students that they were indeed doing the project as they normally would.  The teachers had apparently changed their minds and not let me know.  This led to a scramble on my part to find something new to do.  Fortunately I found something I really like, the kids really like, and something that will be in my teacher tool box from now on but it would have been easier if I had known ahead of time.

Be respectful of all staff, treat everyone as part of the same team.  I have worked in buildings where the support staff was wholeheartedly accepted and treated as just part of the team.  I’ve also been in buildings where it seemed that the support staff was treated as if they were lesser because they were not certified staff members.  Care to guess which buildings had the higher staff morale and better overall sense of community?  Pretty easy to figure out huh?  The kids pick up on this as well and they will learn to treat others the same way.  Keep that in mind.

Be on time to pick up your class from lunch or specials.  These teachers/staff members have elsewhere to go.  You might be cutting in to someone’s lunch or plan time if you are late, or maybe they’re supposed to be on duty elsewhere leaving kids under-supervised or causing other staff and teachers to lose lunch/plan time.  I know sometimes meetings run long.  Maybe send one teacher to pick all the kids up while the others stay in a meeting.  Call the teacher and let them know you’re running late, call the office and see if someone can pick up your class.  It’s the same as above be respectful of everyone.

Be open-minded when it comes to professional development.  Something else of which I’ve been guilty.  I was scheduled to attend a five day workshop and was dreading it.   I had heard this was a great workshop that it would really change my classroom, my teaching, and my students’ performance but I still just knew I was going to go out of my head sitting in a room for six hours a day for five days.  I was so wrong.  The workshop really did change things for me, it was wonderful, dynamic, and one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended.  I’ll write about my Kagan experience later.  Still when the ladies I attended with and I took our info back to our staff we were met with some open and some closed minds.  The open minds ended up attending a conference of their own on Kagan and loving it.  The closed continued in their same old way and complaining about the kids that didn’t learn, didn’t listen, didn’t pay attention.  Keep that open mind and you just may be surprised.

Blossoming to Science

I came across this video from Nova Science Now on youtube yesterday quite by accident and then today’s DP is about the subject you struggled with in school.  Hmmm coincidence???  So Blossoming to Science is one of the Secrets Lives of Scientists videos that appear at the end of Nova Science Now episodes.  It spoke to me as what she says at the beginning is so me “As a kid I was fascinated with the concepts of science but never felt I was cut out for it.  I thought of science as hard and I assumed there was something about me that wasn’t made for it.”  Umm Mayim couldn’t have described how I felt about science as a kid any better.

When asked I’ve always said science was my worst class, well other than trigonometry seriously I took it in three different classes and NEVER got it I’m tempted to try again to learn it.  Anyway back to science, the first year I was required to do a science experiment for the big school science fair I chose to do a model and what did I do a model of, the constellations.  It was a round map that actually spun so you could see what constellations you would see in the sky at different times of year.  I was so proud of that thing and I even got a ribbon for it, what place I couldn’t tell you anymore but I think it was third, I recall a white ribbon.  At least one other year I got an honorable mention for my project, it might have gotten better but when they set it up for me (we couldn’t set up our own) my report got separated from the display and the report got the HM.  UGH!

So it’s not that science was as hard for me as I thought it was, it just was harder for me compared to other subjects.  I was one of those good grade kids.  I’m not gifted, I didn’t sail through school getting As without ever studying but school also wasn’t overall hard for me.  I did my work and got good grades.  When I didn’t do my work, um chemistry, I didn’t get good grades.  I’m not sure where along the way I decided science was too hard for me. My mother is an RN she was the one I went to for science help so it wasn’t like I thought science was too hard for girls/women.

I’m still fascinated by space.  Lately I’ve been reading book after book about the space program and there are some excellent ones out there written by astronauts, Gene Kranz former NASA flight director (I can not recommend his book Failure is Not an Option enough, it was awesome!), and now I’m reading one by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  As I’ve been reading I realized I understand so much more about what is being said than I thought I would.

Science has become a family thing.  My husband is a veterinarian so naturally science is something he’s interested in, our son’s favorite TV show is Mythbusters, every Sunday night now we sit down to watch Cosmos.  I wish someone had encouraged me along the way, made science interesting to me the way Mayim’s tutor did for her on set.

I’m taking away from this that I need to really be aware of what my students struggle with and encourage them.  If they struggle even though they have an interest in the subject maybe something more is going on, maybe they just need a little push but whatever it is I’m keeping my eye out for it.

In the meantime I’m going to keep studying science on my own, and maybe someday I’ll give trig another try, not because I need it but because I just want to understand it. lol

Written for DP Daily Prompt Land of Confusion 

 

It’s that time of year

And so it begins again… the search for a classroom teaching position that is.  This will be the fourth year that I begin this process.  I am updating all of the various district online applications and keeping an eye on all posted positions but it’s tough.  The search lasts from now until school starts.  It can be very wearing.

I know that there are hundreds of applicants for each position posted so it’s not likely I will get a phone call.  I was fortunate to get two interviews for teaching positions last year.   I have also been incredibly fortunate to have gotten the classroom assistant positions I have had for the past three years.  There is slightly less stress in the job search as I know that I should be able to return to the job I currently hold next year and I work in a wonderful school, the teachers are all so supportive, everyone on the staff is treated as an equal, there is just such a great sense of community here.  However I would still like a classroom position.  So I have the resume updated, cover letters ready to be personalized to school or district, and request for new reference letters out.  I’ve already applied for a number of positions now it’s wait time.  I’m not good at wait time.  I’ll just have to concentrate on my job right now, making the lessons count all the way to the end of the year, my book study on Repair Kit for Grading, maybe pick a book to follow it, and just trying not to stress.

Parent Teacher conferences

So we had my son’s P/T conference last night and between that, the Leader in Me training I attended over the summer, and reading Repair Kit for Grading I began to think about all the P/T conferences I’ve led through the years and the different styles.

One on one  or parent(s)/guardians and teacher alone in a room – this style definitely has its pros and cons.  It’s nice to be able to talk with the parents and have their child’s desk right there to pull out workbooks and notebooks to reference as need be, though I’m not a fan of having the kids clean their desks just for conferences maybe that’s the parent in me talking as my child’s desk was spotless last night and knowing my child I know that’s not how it normally looks.  I want to see that.  I want parents to see what their child’s work area looks like on a day-to-day basis, I want them to know how often we work on keeping them clean.  Maybe an alternate strategy would be to snap a quick picture a few times and have a record.  Most of the time I find that students that are better organized tend to be get better grade, though there are exceptions.  With one on one in a classroom there is little chance of others overhearing your conference keeping it more private.  This however can backfire when you have a parent that becomes angry.  Also this style tends to lead to conferences running longer as parents don’t see anyone else waiting to come in and it can be hard to move them along sometimes. This is also a style that I think is often uncomfortable for new teachers who have never led conferences before.

Two or three on one or parent(s)/guardians and a few teachers in the room – When I began in my last district several of us were new to the school and this suggestion was made to make conferences a little easier.  It was nice to have backup of a veteran teacher in the district (I had taught only 3 yrs before that and the other teacher with us had only taught for one year) but there were times I almost felt like we were ganging up on parents.  It can be hard enough to tell a parent their child is not doing well, or as a parent to hear it.  It has to be tough on a parent to hear it from teacher after teacher in private conference but it seemed to me to be mean to have three teachers in the same room say the same thing over and over.  This conference also has potential to run long but with two or three teachers in a room you have a bit more backup when you say you need to move on and suggest scheduling another time to talk.

One on one in a large group setting – This may sound odd but for the last several years in my last position (small rural middle school) all of the middle school teachers had a table in the gym, there was enough separation that parents couldn’t hear what was happening at the next table but conferences moved faster, parents could see the line forming at the bleachers by the door.  We allowed double time for parents with more than one student and as specials teachers were in the gym with us I think they ended up seeing more parents than they did when it was one on one in the classrooms.  This also provided more backup if parents became angry or belligerent and often kept parents calmer.

Student-led conferences – This is by far my favorite conference style, though I’m not sure how well it would work with say kindergarten and first grade, I think second and third graders could do it and I know kids older than that can.  I was incredibly fortunate that my first year of teaching was in a school that chose to do student-led conferences.  Each students created a portfolio of work from every class.  They chose some examples of their work and after reviewing those chosen the teacher might add an example or two as well.  The student also completed a reflection sheet on their grades and effort for the quarter for each class.  I loved that this asked the student to take responsibility for their behavior.  A few of my students complained about having to come to conferences.  I asked them if their parents had ever come home from conferences and yelled at them or they’d gotten in trouble because of their grades, the answers came in yesses, lowered heads, sinking in chairs 🙂  I explained that this was a chance for them to say to their parents “I know I messed up, here’s how I’m going to fix it and here’s how you and/or the teacher can help me fix it.”  I overheard a mother and daughter talking when the daughter got to the question “How can my parents help me improve/maintain my grade?”  The daughter said her parents could check her homework, her mom replied that she thought Dad did, the daughter said “No Mom he doesn’t”, mom was a bit perplexed but answered, “OK well I can do that.”  When kids came back to school the following week several of them told me how much better it went, that they hadn’t gotten yelled at, that Mom and Dad weren’t happy but since the student had a plan Mom and Dad were calmer than usual.

No matter what the conference style has been every year since that first year I have had my students complete a reflection sheet and whenever possible I have the student lead the conference.

This is my original reflection sheet:

English Reflection Sheet

My _________ quarter grade is _______________.

I am very happy/ happy/ okay/ unhappy/ very unhappy with this grade.  Why?

Effort and Conduct: Circle most appropriate word to complete the sentence.

I usually/sometimes/rarely arrive to class promptly.

I am usually/sometimes/rarely prepared for class (pen or pencil, paper, book, planner.)

I usually/sometimes/rarely follow directions the first time given.

I usually/sometimes/rarely write down my complete assignments in my assignment book

I usually/sometimes/rarely complete my homework/classwork.

I usually/sometimes/rarely hand in my homework/classwork on time.

I usually/sometimes/rarely ask for help when I need it.

I usually/sometimes/rarely work quietly in class.

I usually/sometimes/rarely stay in my seat unless given permission to get up.

What do I need to improve the most?

What steps can I take to improve/maintain my effort and conduct?

What steps can I take to improve/maintain my grade?

What could my parents  and/or teacher do to help me improve/maintain my grade?

Now here is my more recent Reflection Sheet (though after reading Repair Kit for Grading I will be making some changes before I use it again)  they don’t look very different but there were things I thought were just too much on the previous version.  I was really just looking to simplify the form.

Communication Arts Self-Assessment

My   1st / 2nd / 3rd   quarter grade is ____% ____.

I feel this grade is:

I am usually/sometimes/rarely prepared for class (pen or pencil, communication arts binder, reading book, assignment book.)

I usually/sometimes/rarely complete my at-home reading logs.

What things did I do well this quarter?

What things do I need to improve on during the next quarter?

What do I need to do or continue to do in order to improve or maintain my grade?

How can my parent/guardian, Mrs. D. or another person (please name them in your response) help me achieve the goals stated in the question above.

So what do you think about conferences?  What has been the best for you?  What style do you like?  Did I miss any?

Repair Kit study guide: purpose of grades, group grades, and limiting number of A’s given

The next six statement are all on a scale of agree to disagree.  Some I disagree with rather vehemently, just a warning.

14: The ONLY purpose for grades/marks should be to communicate student learning at a point in time.

I somewhat disagree with this statement.  I believe grades/marks should be used to demonstrate progress or lack thereof.  They can be indicators of struggles with a concept or with something else in life.  Years ago we had a gifted student in the middle school where I worked whose grades were suddenly dropping.  We knew she was capable of the work but it wasn’t getting done.  When we sat down with mom to express our concerns we learned the problem was not school or her abilities, rather it was life.  Mom and Dad were getting divorced and Dad had already moved in with someone else whom he was planning to marry as soon as the divorce was final.  This was a major shake-up in the students’ world.  Things like this happen all the time and believe it or not grades/marks can be a good indicator.  It is well publicized that a drop in grades is one indicator of drug use as well.  Grades are so much more than just a picture of student learning at a single point in time.

 

15: One should NEVER include group scores in grades for individual students.

Agreed, I think everyone remembers being part of a group project where one of the members did not pull their weight, then the whole group lost points due to that.  Now in the interest of disclosure I have not always agreed with this statement.  I have in the past given group grades that were included in the final grade.  To try to make it more fair in my first few years of teaching I include a peer assessment section to the group grade. Each student was given 100 points to distribute to their groupmates how they felt was appropriate according.  I added these up and they were part, a small part but part of the final project score for that students.  Looking back I’m appalled that I did this with so little direction to the students on how to actually assess their groupmates work.  Even then it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable so I tried just grading the parts each student did but that seemed to defeat the purpose of giving a group project: cooperative learning. Maybe this is where grading by standards comes in would come in handy, awarding not scores but marking on a checklist of standards covered?  Definitely something to think about.

 

16: There should be a limit to the number of students who receive marks/grades of A.

DISAGREE!!!

In case you can’t tell from the above I vehemently, emphatically disagree with this statement.  We as educators do a disservice to students when we allow only a certain number of As.  Grade distribution according to the Bell Curve needs to disappear, NOW.  I would jump for joy, shout from the mountaintops, dance in the streets (OK you get the idea) if all of my students earned As.  One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students achieve to the best of their ability, if I limit the number of As my students  can earn I fail.  It’s simply not fair, and yes I know that life’s not fair.  I’ve used that phrase in my classroom many times but if a student earns an A that is the grade they should receive.  To say to a student well you did good your final score was in the percentage range for an A but since there were 5 people who scored higher than you and I only give out five As then you get a B, usually followed with “next time try harder” is infuriating and ridiculous.  There are students for whom a C is a major accomplishment, those who study day and night and just barely get the A, so if they end up with a B what’s to stop them from saying why bother spending that extra time studying if (pick 5 names of the smartest students in the class) are going to get the As anyway.  See, yeah, NO!  This is a bad, bad idea!

Ok now you clearly know how I feel, what do you think?

 

Repair Kit study guide: retaking assessments, new evidence, and how grades are calculated

Today’s post will be the final three questions in the frequency section of Appendix C.

 

11) I allow students to redo assessments without penalty if they have not done well.

I wasn’t sure how to answer this one as I have allowed students to retake tests and actually I require it if they get an F or D after some reteaching that is.  It’s the without penalty part that caught me because I have averaged the grades, which I guess would be count as a penalty and at other times I have replaced the grade.  I have also allowed students the chance to make corrections to their test for an additional ½ pt credit on each question corrected, would this also be counted as a penalty?  All in all this leaves me thinking I should answer sometimes or almost always.

 

12) I allow new evidence to replace, not simply be added to old evidence.

Ok so does this mean I forget or let go of old scores and only concentrate on new ones?  Does it mean don’t look at how my children have grown because I think sometimes it’s important to know where kids have come from educationally and how they got there.  Does this mean I only count the most recent scores to calculate final grades?  Is about question 11 and replacing old scores with new?  Clearly I didn’t answer this one because I feel that I need more information.

 

13) My students understand how grades will be calculated and what evidence will count.

I chose frequently.  I have made it a habit to create scoring guides for projects/writing assignments and hand them out to students when I give the assignment.  This makes it clear to students what they need to do to earn the top score and has resulted in better overall projects.

When it comes to final grades I always to try make it exceedingly clear to my students that grades are strictly points earned out of points possible.  I try to hand back homework regularly so parents can see the scores, students saw them when they graded in class.  Graded tests were required to be signed by parents no matter what the score.  This was a homework grade, something I’m sure Ken O’Connor would frown on but I wanted to be sure that parents were seeing their student’s scores.  I had tried this as an extra credit score and got about 30-35% of tests returned; when I made it a homework grade that number jumped to at least 85% returned. At progress report time I made sure I handed each child their report with assignments missing, points earned and total points possible so they could see exactly how they got their final grade.

These days many districts have online grade books so it is easier for parents to track their children’s scores and easier to show a student just their grades.