Category: the cacophony

Day One Hundred Eighty-Two

So, the other day, Mr. B emailed me to ask me if I’d be willing to be a building rep for the teacher’s union. I didn’t respond with my immediate reaction, which was, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” I took some time to think it over. Mr. B has been my mentor for years, so the fact the he was the one asking was partially why I eventually said yes. There was an election, but I was running unopposed, so it was all but official at that point. Today it’s actually official. 

That’s probably the biggest thing that happened to me today. It was the first day of final exams for the underclassmen, and I had no exams to give, so my day was pretty quiet. Exams are scheduled so that students take two each day with a half hour break in between and lunch after. Today, they took the exams for their Block 1 classes, and I don’t have any (APUSGOV was on A days- and seniors took finals last week- and my prep time was on B days).

I spent most of the morning cleaning out my classroom, except for the hour or so when I was in a team leader meeting with Mrs. C, Mrs. R, and The Vice Principal. I didn’t realize how full my file cabinets had gotten until I decided to go through them and clear the clutter. Now they’re mostly empty because everything is digital. No need for old curriculum binders, or anything like that.

I had lunch with Mr. W, Mr. F, and Mrs. T. We went out of the building for that; I’d gotten a gift certificate to a local restaurant from a student, so we spent it, and talked about the year, and relaxed… When we got back to school, Mrs. T and I graded Multi-Genre Projects with Mrs. T; we each take half of the projects, so the grading is quick, easy, and awesome. I know I keep saying the students’ work is amazing… but it really is. The level of detail on some of these projects is phenomenal.

Oh, and this one fun: one of the boys on the football team had asked for an extension on the project (he needs to pass World and English in order to keep his eligibility for fall sports, so making sure he had time to do well was great and responsible), so he had to print everything out and hand it in today. He showed up with five of his teammates in tow, and they were chanting his name the whole time he was printing pieces, and when he handed me everything they burst into applause.

Gotta love a supportive team, right?

This afternoon, I got invited to a house party by one of the many presidential campaign staffers I keep in touch with (APUSGOV networking). He’s got one of my incoming GOV students- a girl who was in World with me two years ago- interning on the campaign, which is awesome. He couldn’t say enough good things about her. Helping to run a house party is a huge thing, so it was really neat to see one of my students taking that on. I’m super proud of her.

Day One Hundred Thirty-Seven

This morning I spent my PLC time doing QPA stuff because I didn’t have anything else to do, and Mr. W asked if he could use one of my APUSGOV assessments to show people how to use the QPA evaluation tool. It had already been evaluated by my department, but the scrutiny was still a bit nerve-wracking. And someone discovered a typo on my rubric.

So embarrassing! But, y’know, it happens.

During the bell change, I had to deal with a student who routinely tries to take things from his classmates (and gets in trouble for it just as routinely). I actually had to step in front of him and block his path to stop him from taking another boy’s bag. I’m not a small person- I’m actually fairly tall- but he’s still bigger than me, and he got right in my face when I told him to get out of my classroom, so that was not especially fun. But it was only a moment. 

And the rest of the day was good. My World students really liked the lesson on Hinduism, and appreciated having time to read their books for the Central Asia Novel Project and/or study their vocabulary (quiz next class) after they finished it. They’ve been tackling some complex things at a fairly fast pace, so I figured a day that’s a little easier, quieter, and more leisurely would go well. 

I forgot my lunch, so I went down to the local deli to get a sandwich, and came back with a bag of cookies, too. I shared them with Mr. T and Mr. F because I am a good friend to The Cacophony (and Mrs. T is healthy about what she eats, so no cookies for her). 

Practice was windy, and we’re still doing relay passes on a dirt road because our track has snow on it, but we’re making it happen. I think my 4×1 teams have potential. 

Day One Hundred Twenty-Eight

Greetings from Hanover! Mrs. T and I are here for the night because we’re presenting at a conference tomorrow. 

And it’s snowing.

It’s been either snowing or raining all day long, which has been totally gross, but it was a decent day in spite of that. 

It was a teacher workshop day, so it started at 8:00AM with breakfast and coffee, followed by a faculty meeting to go over the agenda. After that, we had two hours to do curriculum work. I didn’t have much to do- just updating some of my APUSGOV stuff- and I’d been meaning to talk to Ms. C about the observations she’d done, so I asked if I could meet with her. We ended up talking for an hour and change about my classes, the school culture, the broader community culture, etc… She’s new this year, so I think it was beneficial for both of us; I gave her my perspective, and she got to learn more about who I am as a teacher. She’s my evaluator now, so that’s important.

I had about half an hour to do some grading and lesson planning, and then it was time for lunch. The Vice Principal spent the last two weeks organizing a potluck, which was awesome. Not everyone participated, but obviously my cacophonous friends and I did. We ate sooooo much good food, including some amazing mac and cheese, which was just the thing for a cold, wintery day. 

We went from lunch to a meeting facilitated by a group of teachers who’ve been researching grading practices. They announced earlier in the year that, based on their work, we would be moving to semester grading next year, so today was about figuring out how to make the process as smooth as possible. It was a shorter meeting than anticipated- I think it’s a change that has broad support- so we had about two hours to write reflections on our instructional practices and get work done. 

I wanted to write my reflection and then do the grading and planning I needed to do, but I ended up doing it backwards. That’s fine, though; it all got done!

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 Eighty-One

I asked my APUSGOV students to start class by looking up some information about different bureaucratic agencies to get a sense of their scope and function. They actually started class by checking Snow Day Calculator (71% chance of a snow day tomorrow), but then they got to it. We chatted about the power of the executive branch, unelected bureaucrats making policy, patronage, regulation and deregulation… The words, “Fight me, bro!” were used (jokingly) when a tangent about OSHA got heated, and there were many remarks about the current Cabinet. And, of course, since doing research on government websites right now means lots of pop-ups about the shutdown, we had to talk about that, as well.

I ended up talking about it in one of my World classes, too, because one of the APUSGOV boys had written “Shutdown Day 16″ on my board, and a couple of my Block 4 ninth graders asked if I could explain what was going on. I gave them the cliff notes version and took a few questions. I like that they asked!

My actual lesson was about Rwanda. I started showing Shake Hands With the Devil, which is an extremely powerful film. I’ll finish it next class, and have much more to write about it then. I can already tell that it’s captured the attention of some of my toughest customers, so I’m feeling good about it. 

Afterwards, Mr. T and I had lunch (Mrs. T left cake in the prep room for us!) and did some grading. Mr. M and Mr. F joined us for a bit. Sometimes, I like to sit at my desk by myself and grind out the grading, but it was good to keep company with them today (even when they started talking about ice climbing because they’re all kind of crazy). In many of my recent entries, I’ve alluded to the fact that some bad stuff happened in my district last week- which is all the detail I can give- so morale is low. We’re getting by, though. 

Day Seventy-Two

Did you go sledding at work today? Because I did. 

The track team trekked into the woods at the end of practice for a sledding relay, which was a ton of fun. There was a dramatic, come from behind win, courtesy of one of my best dashers. He’s a fairly serious kid, but he couldn’t stop smiling as his teammates mobbed him for hugs and high-fives.

The rest of the day was fun, too. 

I went to ask Mr. T a question during Block One, ended up talking to him and Mrs. M about all kinds of stuff, and then playing a round of speed chess. I lost, and I kind of can’t believe it, but it’s all good. 

World/English went well, and I am so happy I’ve been able to say that for multiple days in a row! Mrs. T and I saw some awesome projects coming together. One girl is planning activities for her classmates to teach about apartheid, another has detailed maps- which she made herself- to show the path of Sudanese refugees, a boy found a rap song about child soldiers to incorporate into his work… It’s all fabulously creative. We’ve also had breakthroughs with a few of our less engaged students; Mrs. T’s been working with two or three, and so have I. We’re seeing some real growth and academic successes, and it’s awesome.

We sat and talked Block Five, and agreed that it’s a difficult, tiring year, but the progress we’re going to help our students make is going to be huge. We’re going to look at our plans for next semester to make sure we do what’s best for these kids now that we think we’ve figured them out. It means we’ll have to adjust some of the timing and delivery of lessons, balance “open wall” days with some days in our separate spaces, and so on.

We’ve also realized we have to change up our tag team routine when we do teach together in the Cavern. I’ve been starting classes while she takes attendance because we thought the consistency would be good for students; I say good morning and explain the agenda the same way everyday (and I’m the louder of the two of us). But it’s created the perception that I’m “in charge,” and that isn’t good.

I apologized to Mrs. T for not catching on to this sooner, and she said it didn’t click for her either until today, so now we’ll fix it. Constant communication and willingness to adjust are so key to team teaching.

What else? Mr. T and I observed Mrs. Z’s US history class for instructional rounds… The Cacophony planned a Christmas party… All good things…

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.

Day Twenty-Nine

I managed to get through last month without catching more than a little sniffle, but this morning I woke up with a headache, stuffy nose, sore throat, and fever. So the September cold got me in October…

I still went to work because it was just a teacher workshop day: meetings, NEASC stuff, PLC & department stuff… I’m doubly bad in meetings when I’m sick, apparently. Like, one of my older colleagues announced- when we were well over our allotted meeting time, I might add- that one way we could save time is by showing each other how to use Powerschool more efficiently. He said there should be a process for that, so I said, “The process is that you find a Millenial and bribe them.”

Thank goodness my colleagues think I’m funny.

We cruised through NEASC. Then I went to lunch with Mr. W, Mr. T, Mr. F, Mrs. T, and Mrs. B. That’s almost the whole Cacophony. Most of them had PLC or Department meetings afterwards, but not Mr. T and I. Social studies is so far ahead of the game. So he went to finish entering grades and comments for progress reports, and I went to touch up my next APUSGOV unit (my grades and comments were done three days ago because I am a wizard). I ended up gutting my unit test and putting a bunch of new stuff in it, so that’s done. I also had time to redecorate the team bulletin board.

Not a bad day’s work.

Day Twenty-Eight

Today was an early release day, so our classes flew by. I introduced a new unit in APUSGOV with a lesson about political socialization We started by brainstorming the ten people, institutions, media sources, events, etc… that shaped our political views. 

Mine:

  • Parents
  • Catholicism
  • AIDS crisis
  • Columbine shooting
  • My AP Euro teacher
  • The Daily Show w/ Jon Stewart
  • 9/11
  • Iraq War
  • Staffing on the Dean campaign
  • Twitter

Theirs: 

  • Parents
  • Other family
  • Parkland shooting
  • Orlando nightclub shooting
  • Terrorism
  • NPR
  • Youtube
  • Stephen Colbert
  • Applying for college
  • World Cultures class
  • Literature and Social Issues class
  • Youth and Government club
  • Protests at Standing Rock
  • 2016 elections
  • Working in small, local businesses
  • Political polarization

It was fascinating to chat about all of that, and that was all we had time to do. 

In World/English, we just had students continue drafting, Mrs. T gave a quick lesson about things like flashback in order to encourage them to play. She and I both read several full drafts, and I love how proud students were to show them to us. That’s so cool.

Once students left, we had an hour for lunch. My cacophonous friends and I went to Starbucks because early release days are late days for us. In order to take a day off our required 187, we have two teacher workshops until 5:30- one fall, one spring- which makes for a loooooong day. 

It started with an informational session about vaping; a lady from Poison Control gave a lecture. Then there was some administrative business. After that, our time was devoted to the NEASC self study (it’s an accreditation thing done every ten years). We’re all in groups, working to compile one part of the study.

I had to leave mine for what I though would be a short 504 meeting (and was actually a long one). While I was gone, one of my group members was online and found out the local brewery was having a cornhole tournament tonight, so a bunch of us went (beer, pizza, cornhole). So fun!

Day One

WE’RE BAAAAAACK!

The first day always starts with a district-wide breakfast and welcome meeting. I walked into breakfast with Mr. F and told him we were going to make new friends, so we sat with two new teachers, one of whom turned out to be my new World counterpart. His name is Mr. T, and he’s super cool. Our other cacophonous friends joined us, and- to the newbies’ amusement- we got to work on my bingo board (I fill it with educational buzzwords and see how long it takes for them to be said at meetings). It’s my bit of mischief, but it does mean I’m listening!

I actually love the welcome back meeting because it’s powerful too see the faculty and staff of the whole district in one room, and The Superintendent usually starts it with something inspiring. Today he had us all stand, and gradually sat us back down in order of how many years we’d worked in the district- so all the new teachers sat first, then everyone with less than five years, and so on. It’s year fourteen for me, so I was standing longer than most, but one woman who works in the district office was left standing at FORTY-EIGHT years!

Obviously, we all stood back up to applaud her. 

The rest of the meeting was about the vision for the year (helping every student reach their potential). After that, we had some tech training (new program to do flex time scheduling), which I blew through because I’m one of those pesky, savvy Millenials. Then I went down to grab a bunch of new supplies from Mrs. Z. She rocks, but it’s so weird not seeing Mr. B… 

Anyways. Meetings, meetings, lunch (featuring whoopie pies from Mrs. T!), and more meetings followed- ending with a typically raucous Ninth Grade House meeting, which included this little exchange:

The Vice Principal: I realize I’ve been here twice as long as your past several vice principals, and I haven’t gotten sick of you yet.
Me: Ehh, give it a bit more time.
Mr. F: We’ll try harder.

That’s us, heh.

I would have puttered in my room after that, but I had to leave right at 3:00 to get to a doctor’s appointment. The nurse who took my pulse said it was fast. 

YUP!