Category: flex time

Day One Hundred Twenty

So today could have been a disaster: Mrs. T was out sick, I had to change some questions on my APUSGOV test about ten minutes before the test review was supposed to take place, and I had meetings all afternoon… Everything went pretty well, though, so yay! Disaster avoided!

I was worried about World/English because B days are rowdy, and the debate prep has been challenging for many of the groups, and it’s not easy for one person to manage. Mrs. T did request a sub, though, and luckily it was one of the good ones; he was actually able to answer some questions and redirect off-task students, so it wasn’t all on me to do it. And students’ behavior was unusually good. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the last day of debate prep and students knew they had to buckle down, or because the lighter evenings have them energized, or who knows what, but I was happy about it. 

Both of my most challenging students had really awesome days because I kept suggesting small tasks they could do to help their groups. We always tell students to break their work into small tasks, focus on one thing at a time, and take breaks in between tasks as needed, but not all students know how to do that for themselves. They will have to learn how in the future, but for now? I’m totally willing to help. Yeah, I still had to keep telling one of them to go back to his seat and finish the task he’d been given, but he didn’t shout at me when I did it, and he did get back to work, so it’s progress.

During flex time, one debate group met in my room to practice giving their arguments out loud. I was holding an APUSGOV test review session (after hastily revising the test because I decided it should have more questions about checks and balances) at the same time, and made an exception to allow the ninth graders in. So they were there along with fifteen wicked smart seniors, which I think was both slightly intimidating and slightly inspiring. I caught them pausing every so often to listen to us discuss different concepts that will be on the test. 

Also, my phone rang when I was mid-review because another presidential campaign staffer saw my invite and wants to bring their candidate to class. Lesson, as always: it can’t hurt to ask. 

What else? Meetings! The team had a meeting with a parent during Block 5. I was worried it was going to be rough because basically everyone- the parent, the student, all of us teachers- has been feeling frustrated. But it was really positive and helpful, and I think it’s going to make a huge difference for the student. One funny/awkward moment: I was taking minutes, and my computer froze while Mr. F was talking, so I asked him to stop. I should have said “wait” instead of “stop” because he thought I was asking him to stop talking entirely! I clarified quickly, but I felt SO bad!

After that meeting, we had a faculty meeting, which started with a most excellent surprise: free tacos!

The Principal figured he’d interject something unexpected and awesome because, as I’ve said repeatedly, it’s been a rough year. He went on to say that there will be some trauma counselors here next week to talk to staff, and there will be (and have been) some to talk to students, too. Plus, the admins are planning a school spirit/morale-building fun day for sometime this spring (The Principal did add a dry, “Yes, there will be a spring” because there still are several feet of snow on the ground). They took suggestions for fun day activities during the meeting. These were mine:

  • ultimate frisbee
  • laser tag 
  • lip sync competition
  • t-shirt decorating

My cacophonous friends, who were sitting with me, echoed my suggestions and added a few more. After the meeting ended, we walked out into warm and sunny weather, and were reminded that, as The Principal said, there will, in fact, be a spring. 

Day One Hundred Ten

This morning I saw one of my former students decked out in Marine dress blues. He was waiting in the main office to see The Principal when I went down to my mailbox. My immediate reaction was, “DUDE, LOOK AT YOU!” because he’d undergone such a huge and awesome transformation since graduation. It was really cool to catch up with him for a few minutes.

That started the day off on a positive note. 

And my first class was awesome. We got into a big discussion about the impact of warfare on young people after reading about Syrian teenagers trying to get an education during and after ISIS’ occupation of Raqqa. That was one of the news stories I pulled up to show students what’s currently happening in the region, and it really hooked them. I felt like it was a really meaningful class.

They had about twenty minutes to do their homework, too, so most were able to get it all done. Three of the boys decided that, while they were working, they should eat Jello cups with their fingers. 

I offered them spoons, which was apparently an affront because they reacted with (fake) outrage. Like, how dare I imply that they couldn’t manage to eat Jello without the aid of utensils?

I’ve embraced the fact that ninth grade boys are not meant to be fully understood.

Flex time was good because a bunch of students came in to make up work, retake quizzes, have me edit papers, and so on- and, yay, for wanting to improve! Also, one student came in solely so that he could show me a video message from Senator Cory Booker to me, thanking me for teaching about current events and politics. The senator did a campaign stop while I was over during February break, and this student went with his dad, and went right up to the senator and asked him to give me a shout out. How cool is it that one of my students did that for me?

My Block 4 class was… not awful, but it was frustrating after everything else had gone so well. There’s a group of students I just haven’t been able to reach. They come in unprepared, disrupt class, try to use their phones when they shouldn’t, that kind of thing… I thought I’d gotten one student out of that group- he was opting to associate with other students, focus on his work, engage in class, etc…- but today he was back in it. I addressed all the problem behaviors and got on with the lesson; it just didn’t have the same impact it had earlier in the day.

I’m going to keep working to make that class better, though.

We had a team meeting during Block 5, which was interrupted by The Vice Principal. She had some things to share with us about the Very Bad Thing I alluded to yesterday. It’s really hurting a lot of our students- and a lot of adults, too- and I don’t know how long the recovery is going to be, but it’s definitely going to be a while…

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. 

Day Fifty-Five

This morning, I spent the better part of a block playing devil’s advocate against my APUSGOV class. The topic was whether we have a participatory, pluralist, or elite democracy, and they had to cite foundational documents as evidence (which they’ll have to do in writing on their next test). I gave them time in groups to construct their arguments, and then we talked it out. Someone would make a claim, I’d counter it and push them to respond. It was good fun. 

Mrs. T was at a conference, so the Cavern was mine for World/English. I started by defining vocab words from their most recent vocab building assignments (for these assignments, students find us five words excellent words and define them, and we pick ten for the vocab list). This set:

  • Querulous
  • Secular
  • Arid
  • Enmity
  • Draconian
  • Furtive
  • Quell
  • Magnanimous
  • Despot
  • Ostracize

A lot of those words came out of the books students just read. And after I defined them, I gave instructions for outlining book papers and had them get started. They’re outlining by hand (combats attempts to cheat), using a template Mrs. T made; she or I will check it before they start drafting. It breaks up what is a challenging thing- writing a full paper, that is- into manageable pieces with lots of checks for understanding.

I had anyone who hadn’t finished their book find a place to sit where they wouldn’t be distracted and read- no judgment- to get caught up. Some finished after twenty minutes or so, and some will be reading again next class. I had to monitor some of them closely to keep them on task, but I expected that because this is a challenge for the academic stamina of many students.

Still, things went really well during Block 2. I let some kids work out in the hall, and passed around my giant bag of candy, and life was good. 

(Spoilers: it was too good to last, heh).

The 9th graders left for flex time, and about half my APUSGOV class came to see me for test review. I went back over campaign finance law, Fed. 10, iron triangles, whatever they wanted. And I showed this:

That’s how we roll. 

Anyways, World/English resumed Block 4, and we rocked and rolled for a while. But then the kids in the hall started behaving inappropriately, and bits of candy and candy wrappers ended up all over the floor. So I had a word with them about the choices they were making, and had them pick up the room before leaving. It was definitely a “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment. Hopefully it’ll stick. 

Day Thirty-Nine

So here’s some modern teaching fun: a campaign staffer for a congressional candidate I’ve been tryyyyying to get as a guest speaker for APUSGOV called me around 1:45. He told me his candidate is free come to the school at 10:40, which is… not during my class. So I said no. But then I realized it’s during flex time! So I said yes! I texted my APUSGOV students on Remind, and told I was going on the adaptive scheduling program and adding them to my roster unless they texted back and told me not to. By 2:00 it was done. 

I am a wizard, y’all. And technology is cool.

APUSGOV was fun today: we talked current events (IMF treaty, Jamal Khashoggi, midterm elections), and then students continued work on projects. Watching kids do group projects on Google apps- which they edit simultaneously- is great.

Mrs. T and I split our time in World/English between setting up an electronic portfolio (her), and studying the colonization of Africa and its long-term impacts (me). We also tag-teamed two IEP meetings that were scheduled during our class time. One of us went down to the meeting while the other watched over the Cavern of Learning, then we switched. 

Have I mentioned how good team teaching can be?

I graded papers and did the aforementioned wizardry during my prep time, and graded some more after school. Then I got to go do errands, go home, change clothes, wolf down dinner, and return to school to host a candidates forum for state house candidates. Turnout was a smidge low, but otherwise it was great. A few of my APUSGOV girls came to be timekeepers, and got some face time with all the candidates. 

Phew!

Day Thirty

So I’m back at work after a long weekend. My nail polish is chipping, and I have whiteboard marker all over the sides of my palms. It was a good day, though. 

Students worked on their narrative drafting in the Cavern of Learning, and a bunch opted to stick around during flex to keep working with Mrs. T or I. I have this one student who always comes in with an attitude, tries to break some rule (which one varies), complains when I tell him to knock it off, tells me he hates my class, uses profanity, tries to distract his peers, gets separated from his peers… and then he buckles down and does his work. This seriously happens everyday he has my class, so… 

I’m just embracing the routine. This is a kid who cares a lot about how his peers see him, so he won’t separate himself to focus on his work, but if I separate him as a “punishment,” he protects his reputation and keeps his grades up. 

If that’s what it takes…

We had a team meeting Block 5, and a faculty meeting after that, so I did my prep for tomorrow between 3:30 and 4:30. I was hoping I’d get out of work sooner because it was a gorgeous day, but that’s all right. At least I won’t have to worry about anything in the morning.

Day Seventeen

Open House Chocolate Cream Pie:

  • Mix 4oz, of cream cheese and half a tub of Cool Whip 
  • Spread evenly in an Oreo crust 
  • Chill for 30 minutes
  • Mix 12oz instant chocolate pudding mix with 2.5 cups of milk
  • Spread on top of cream cheese and Cool Whip layer

Pie did, in fact, make the day better for my whole floor. That’s a win.

And so was everything else today! I had two awesome World classes. I got some GREAT questions about Latin America, and my students had a big, broad discussion of immigration during Block 4. That was so cool. They devoured the independent work I assigned, too, which rocks. 

I also had a super busy flex block- 17 students came to see me! They were all able to get help, get work done, and improve their grades. It’s such a benefit for them to have that time. I had a feeling I’d like flex, and I definitely do so far.

I spent half my prep time in a team leader meeting and half in a 504 meeting. It was super positive (not all of them are), but it meant I had to stay after to prepare for Open House. It didn’t take too long, though; I washed my desks and boards, printed informational handouts, and then left for a couple hours. Some teachers stay straight through the afternoon, but I always make it a point to go home. I like to get coffee, eat dinner, change clothes, and reapply my make-up. 

At Open House, I always do a couple things: I write my credentials on the board (because I am a professional badass, and people should know), I congratulate parents of seniors and welcome parents of freshmen, and I try to remember to breathe. It’s so much more nerve-wracking than teaching is! But I think it went well.

Day Sixteen

Okay, so that meeting that I had last week that went all sideways? The follow-up was today, and it was really good. The SpEd Director and Ms. N loved the work I did, the student using it is succeeding, and my confidence is back. There were apologies all around, too, for misunderstanding each other last time. So all is well in the kingdom.

I did very simple lessons in both APUSGOV and World, but sometimes simplicity works. It definitely did today. It was a lot of fun.

My APUSGOV students had to read the Constitution and identify what powers are given to each branch of the federal government, and what powers are given to the states; and then I charted out their answers on the board. Totally not flashy, but the conversation we had about why powers were delegated the way they were? That was brilliant.

My World class was a unit intro; we’re starting our study of Latin America. So I went over the unit plan, taught the vocab (which led to many hilarious tangents in my Block 4 class), and gave them the remainder of time to work. They had a map to label, and an assignment on daily life (read and respond to an article about a specific country, do additional research on anything about that country and cite it). Anything they didn’t do is homework. So it’s a lesson in time management and decision-making, too, and I liked how I went. 

We also experimented with flex time for the first time today. Yesterday, we all spoke to the students in our advisories about which teachers they wanted to see for extra help, enrichment, whatever. We built their schedules for the advisory block, and today they went where ever they signed up to go. I had 14 students come see me; some wanted to make up work, some wanted to retake their last quiz. I thought it went really well.

It’s Mr. F’s birthday. We did lunch, and then I went to chat about upcoming things with Mrs. T before my aforementioned meeting. I had another meeting at 2:30, and then I went back to finish talking to Mrs. T. 

Now I’m making pie because Open House is tomorrow. It’s a thing.

Day One Hundred Eighty-Five

Teacher workshop day two was a day full of meetings: a meeting about new grading protocols, a meeting about CBE, a meeting about how adding flex time next year will work, a PLC meeting… Thankfully, there were breaks in between each one. 

The flex time meeting was the rowdiest. The faculty I work with has no chill, so new initiatives are always met with a barrage of questions. New initiatives that expose gaps in technological savvy are even more fun. But I think there’s a lot of excitement to try this out. I certainly think it’s got potential. 

Stay tuned, I guess.

Afterwards, I grabbed lunch with Mr. F, Mr. W, and- when she got out of her additional meetings (because she’s a department head)- Mrs. T. Then I had to head own to Mrs. Z’s room for a department meeting because she’s filling in for Mr. B temporarily (It’s weird, but I’m still very okay with it not being me).

I didn’t have anything to do after that because it was time for wrapping up grades and verifying them, and- BOOM!- I’m a wizard, so my grades were done last Friday. My room’s also in order, so I gave myself the job of helping Mr. F organize his nasty, cluttered book shelves. I’m halfway done, so I’ll finish tomorrow!