Author: 187 Days of Teaching

Day Seventy-One

Instead of going to PLC meetings this morning, the faculty and staff got to go to the annual Christmas breakfast, made by our culinary students and served by the administrative team. My cacophonous friends and I met in my classroom and went down to eat together. It was a fabulous way to start the day. 

Then I went to APUSGOV, and skyped my friend, Ian Hines, who is a Republican digital strategist, fundraiser, and web designer out of Maryland. I love having him talk to my students because he’s wicked smart and good at what he does, he and I are political opposites despite being shaped by the same events, and he doesn’t look a thing like students expect him to look based on his job description (he’s a 32yo lax bro with tattoos and hipster glasses).

So it was fun. 

Afterwards, I had them dig into Fed. 70 to continue our study of the executive branch. We’ll chat about it next class.

World/English went pretty well, too. The bulk of our students really used the time well, and their projects are looking great. They were also oddly excited about the meteor shower tonight; the Google doodle probably fueled that.

We did have to speak to a handful about some really stupid stuff: farting at each other, hiding each other’s things, breaking each other’s pencils… It’s not behavior we’ve had much of in the past; usually they leave it behind when they come to high school. But this year is a different year… 

Mrs. T, Mr. F, and I talked it out during our prep time: what’s working, what’s not, what we can do better… I’m so glad we stick together and have each other’s backs. It always helps.

what do you think a good gift for a teacher is…

what do you think a good gift for a teacher is?

Coffee and chocolate, if that teacher is me… I think it’s sweet to get any gift, though.

Day Seventy

I like to tinker with my upcoming lessons if I have time, and this morning I had time, so that’s how I spent most of my prep block. Then Mr. W and Mr. F came by to chat about various things. Mr. F had candy, so he wins. 

Mrs. T and I had the best day in the Cavern that we’ve ever had on a B day. Our students chose their own seats and they stayed on task. They were determined to show us that they could. They did great work, too, and it was fun rather than draining to oversee it. I was even able to take a few minutes help some APUSGOV kids who came in with questions about their papers; no one acted up while my focus was off of them.

It was amazing.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but it looks like we may have finally figured out how to make class work for these students. 

Best story of the day: a boy who’d really struggled to write his book paper and asked for an extension got ahead on the research project and used some class time to finish his revisions. He turned in an awesome final draft, and brought his grade in my class all the way up to an A from a C-. I’m so proud of him. I sent his parents a note to say so.

If you’re not ever contacting parents with good news, make time to start doing it. It’s good for everyone involved.

Day Sixty-Nine

Well. Today there was an Incident. It was the kind that involved the SRO, The Principal, and a bunch of paperwork. Sooooo that was not fun. 

I am okay, though, and lots of my friends came by to make sure of it.

And, other than that, the day was actually really good. APUSGOV was nice and easy. We had to take five to talk about how frigid it was outside. Then we watched an episode of The West Wing (”The Short List”) and talked about it. After that, we read Article II of the Constitution, and had a little chat about what’s coming up between now and vacation. I also handed back drafts of research papers, so a few students came in during flex time to edit and revise. Gotta love that initiative! Final drafts are due next class.

The aforementioned Incident happened during World/English. If not for that, it would have been a completely awesome class. Our students did SUCH good work. The little things Mrs. T and I have been doing- dividing the double block into work/break time, doing daily goal-setting, etc…- have been helping a lot. The classroom environment and the work completion are so much better. A few of the girls actually came up to me just to let me know how much they appreciated it.

I also got a bunch of compliments on my hair (it was fancy and braided, and usually it’s just in a bun or a ponytail), my dress and boots, and my shiny unicorn nail polish

Ninth grade girls are the best.

I observed Ms. J’s American Lit. class during Block Five. They’re preparing for a debate, and I love debates, so I enjoyed that a lot. Plus, it was a really well-planned lesson. She’s doing super well.

There was a faculty meeting that ran long in the afternoon. I spent most of it cracking jokes to make Mr. T and Mr. I laugh. I had to go back to my room to finish up some grading, but I was done before five, so I wasn’t the last person to leave today! Woohoo!

Day Sixty-Eight

Mr. F and I were supposed to go to an IEP meeting this morning, but it got rescheduled, so we were able to go to the prep room, grab the cinnamon rolls Mrs. T made, and grade papers and stuff. 

World/English started smoothly. It was day two of introducing the research project, giving public speaking pointers, and laying down the law about being able to choose seats, etc… About twenty minutes in, Mrs. T got a call to pick her son up from preschool because he had a fever, so I was left alone in the Cavern. I hate to admit it was frustrating because, obviously, she had to go… But, yeah, it was a little frustrating in the moment. When there are two of us, one can handle the particularly needy and/or disruptive students while the other handles everyone else; it’s exhausting to do it solo. 

But, again, nothing for it. I survived.

I did end up assigning seats, though. The class couldn’t even manage five minutes of quiet work time in the seats they chose (yes, I was timing). When I told them that, and pointed out that I’d warned them repeatedly to stop talking and focus on their work, there was a general acknowledgement that my assigning seats was a reasonable move. 

It was mostly quiet and productive after that.

I saw some cool projects coming together. Topics include the Biafran War, Nelson Mandela, refugee camps in Kenya, the rehabilitation of child soldiers, the hunt for Joseph Kony… It’s all big stuff these students knew little or nothing about prior to ninth grade, and I’m hoping their presentations will be really eye-opening by the time we’re through.

I spent Block Five editing APUSGOV papers, mostly, but I did take a break to talk to Mr. F, Ms. N, Mrs. R, and The Vice Principal about how hard this year is. I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling that way. 

At practice, The Head Coach had me take the sprinters to do starting blocks, which was fun, and it’s something I pride myself on doing well. I spent some time after practice finishing those APUSGOV papers, so my car was all alone in the parking lot when I left. 

Onward…

Day Sixty-Seven

Most of my APUSGOV students came in tired. It’s the end of a tough week: lots of homework (research papers for me), grueling winter sports practices, and everything that happened Wednesday. I was tired, too. 

Luckily, it was a light class. I wrapped up some info about impeachment (spillover from last class), then lectured on “advice and consent of the senate.” It’s easy enough to grasp. 

Also, we had cupcakes. 

Last year, my brilliant little class decided that when the government shuts down, we should eat cake (because if you can’t have a government, you should at least have a cake). That tradition evolved to include eating almost cake (cupcakes) when the government almost shuts down. Congress managed to kick the budget battle down a few weeks, so. Cupcakes. 

In World/English, Mrs. T and I introduced the second part of The Epic Africa Book Paper and Research Project: choosing a topic the book they just read (ie- apartheid, if the student read Born a Crime or Invictus), researching it further, and putting together a multi-media presentation. 

We let students pick their own seats with the warning that we would assign them again if it got rowdy. I got my stopwatch out for work time, break time; and I specified how much research should be done by the end of the double block (notes and citations for at least two sources). Needing to provide that much structure is an adjustment, but our students are benefitting from it it, so we’re okay with that.

I spent my prep time going over the upcoming classes with Mrs. T, modifying assignments for a particular student, and grading some book papers. Then I went and inflicted my evil interval workout (the one that earned me the nickname “Satan”) on my sprinters. 

After that, I made myself presentable for a holiday dinner party. I find myself talking about teaching a lot at parties, and this one was no exception. People just have lots of questions about the profession- and, since I teach government and politics, there are even more questions! I certainly don’t mind, though. I love what I do, so I’m happy to talk about it.

what do you think a good gift for a teacher is…

what do you think a good gift for a teacher is?

Coffee and chocolate, if that teacher is me… I think it’s sweet to get any gift, though.

Day Sixty-Six

Today was significantly less dramatic than yesterday. 

We spent the morning meeting working on the NEASC self-study (and drinking lots of coffee because maaaaybe none of us slept well). I ran into the SRO afterwards and thanked him again for doing a damn good job. 

I had a meeting with Mr. W during Block One; he wanted my help drafting a course proposal for the program of studies, and I was happy to lend my writing skills. After that, I was able to do some lesson prep for APUSGOV, but I didn’t quite finish before the bell. I ended up doing the rest after school.

World/English was really good. It was the last day allotted for work on book papers, so Mrs. T and I were both very busy helping students write conclusions, giving drafts one last edit, answering citation questions, and so on. I broke the block up into work time and break time like I did last class, and it went so well. I did hold two students for lunch detention for being disruptive during work time (they could choose lunch or after school), but hopefully I won’t have to do that in the future. 

Also, I didn’t raise my voice. After last class, I asked myself why I was doing it if I didn’t want to; I realized that I may not be able to change my challenging student’s behavior, but I can change mine. So no more raised voice, I’m done yelling. 

That’s who I want to be.

Most students worked right up to the bell, but they did it. This was a really hard assignment, so it’s awesome that they persevered and succeeded. We were delighted by the big smiles, sighs of relief, and proudly flourished papers. 

One boy asked if he could cheer.

Heck yes.

Day Sixty-Five

My school had a lockdown today. It was a false alarm, thank God, but it was properly terrifying.

I knew right away that it wasn’t a drill. The Principal tells the faculty about drills, for one, and he always comes on the PA to say “Lockdown” before sounding the alarm. Plus, it was during flex time, and he’d never interrupt that. So when the alarm went off I locked my door, shut off my lights, and got my students sitting down against my bookshelves like I’m supposed to, an I was thinking, “What do I say? Do I tell them it’s not a drill?” I was hoping someone would come on the PA and say there was a mistake, everything is okay… 

When that didn’t happen, and the alarm kept ringing, the kids started to look scared. So I said I didn’t know what was going on, but we were all safe where we were, so we should stay calm and stay put. I said, “Hopefully, this is nothing, but I’m going to look after you guys no matter what.” The door in the collapsible wall between my room and Mrs. T’s room has no lock, so one of the boys and I pushed a table against it (her door to the hall was locked, too, of course, but doing that made my students feel safer). Still, there were tears, and prayers. I was listening for gunshots, or any noise, really, and I was praying, too.

It was about an hour before the police came to the door to say we were safe. 

I have never been so happy to see our SRO. 

He explained that they were clearing classrooms one by one, and instructed my students to head to the gym. I thanked him and gave his arm a squeeze on the way out. Then I walked, holding the hands of some of the girls who were sobbing. There was a police officer in the hall, and one at the stairwell, and one at the bottom of the stairs. I mouthed “thank you” to each of them and got my class into the gym. The first thing I did after my students got settled was hug Mr. F, whose room was cleared right before mine. I hugged Mrs. T, too, when she arrived.

We were in the gym for about an hour, maybe longer. But there are bathrooms there, and the nurses had a case full of crackers, and everyone tried to keep it from being so terrible. We were able to go back to class around 1:00, but the day was basically shot. There was a quick lunch- during which I sent messages to my family to say that I was all right- and then class. I let my students do whatever as long as it was quiet. Some wanted to get back to work, some wanted to talk, others just wanted to sit… It was all fine with me.

Now I’m exhausted, and angry, and proud that my students did everything right, and upset that they’re good at lockdowns, and grateful there wasn’t an actual threat, and all the other emotions. It’s understandable, I think.

Day Sixty-Four

So. For the last two B days in my schedule, a student has sworn at me, but it didn’t happen today. Yay for breaking that trend!

I still ended up raising my voice, though, and I hate that I did (especially after so many years of not having to do it, of being “the teacher who doesn’t yell”). I hate what it does to the classroom environment. 

But, for this one student, nothing else has been effective… It suuuuucks…

I did have successes with other students, though. 

One who finds asking teachers for help very challenging came up and asked me for an extension on her paper (which I totally granted). She rehearsed with Ms. N beforehand, and I saw them high five afterwards, which was sweet. Self-advocacy is one of the big, key skills we want students to develop, so whatever we can do to support them, we’ll do.

Another big success: Mrs. T and I found a way to help students who were losing steam towards the end of the double block, and being really disruptive and defiant as a result. I got out my stopwatch after the vocab quiz today, and she told the class we were going to split up the time into silent work time and break time, and gradually increase the intervals of each: so, like, work for ten minutes and break for two, work for fifteen and break for four, etc… There’s flex time and lunch, too, so there’s some big breaks already built in. It’s a bit juvenile, but it did work, so we’re going to keep doing it. 

And I’ll figure out how to stop raising my voice. I will. 

I had a very full Block Five because I had a meeting, and then a few students came by to ask various questions, and then I got caught up in The Federalist Papers. 

As you do.

See, I’m going to use my flex time on Friday to hold a review of Fed. 10 and 51 because my last APUSGOV test revealed that some of my students don’t quite grasp them fully. So the review is open to anyone who feels like they’ll benefit from it. I have nine students signed up so far. 

So I was prepping for that, and got sucked in, and didn’t leave until 4:00, but I got some good work done.