Category Archives: bad days

Wildcard Wednesday: A Panera letdown

When I first met my husband, the Panera around the corner from his apartment was one of our favorite places to go. I liked that it was fast-ish food where I could get fresher, healthier options without completely breaking the bank. Although I had a full time teaching job at the time, I was living on my own paying rent at an apartment that was probably a bit more than I should have afforded, but I was already in the complex when my roommate deserted me and I was just thrilled they technically let me break the lease to move to a significantly cheaper one bedroom place right across the hall, so I didn’t complain.

As time has passed, our lives have gotten more stable and we’ve added kids to the mix, I find myself at Panera less and less. Tonight, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting and although I’d had time to get a quick dinner for her, there was not enough time for me to eat and get her to her meeting on time. Since I had a ton of grading to do, I thought I’d take advantage of Panera’s soup and free wifi.

From the moment I walked in the door it was a series of unfortunate events. First there was quite a long line and only one person behind the counter. Of course, the moment it was actually my turn to order, another cashier came up to take orders.

“Just my luck,” I thought. But, I was in a pretty good mood and had time to kill, so who cared, right?

Then I tried to place my order. My squash soup was no problem, but the flatbread I wanted to accompany it was nixed. Apparently the panini press was broken, so no hot sandwiches were available. I tried not to be snarky when I asked, “so are there any sandwiches you can make?” It was a legit question as the only sandwiches I ever eat at Panera are always warm. I know there was an edge to my voice and I tried to push it down. The manager listed a few off and I picked the chicken salad.

When I went to pick up my order, the next snafu occurred. They were also out of baguettes to go with my soup. One of my favorite things about Panera is the ability to dip bread into my soup. It’s way better than crackers! I sighed and took my chips with a heavy heart. I tried to joke with the woman handing me my food, “it’s not a good day to order at Panera, is it?” She gave me a half-hearted smile and moved on.

I shrugged, resolved to still enjoy my meal and get some grading done. I went to fill my cup with diet Pepsi (blast!) and although soda filled my cup, my entire hand got sprayed with water that appeared to be leaking from the front of the diet Pepsi button. Try as I might to maneuver my hand so I could get soda in the cup and not ice water all over my hand, it was no dice. I calmly mentioned it to the manager (who’d heard all of my woes to this point) and he told me he knew of the problem and that he’d called Pepsi to get it fixed.

I tried to joke with him, “it seems like it’s a day where 5 million things go wrong, huh?”

In what I think was an attempt to make something go right, he came over and tinkered with the machine. He got it to stop spraying water, but not before my cup was full and my hand was drenched. He finally joked back, “what was that you said, 5 million problems? Well, I have one less now, so what does that make it?”

We jokingly did the math together, laughed a bit and then he went back behind the counter as I headed to my table.

The soup was good, the sandwich ok. My husband will like the chips. The meal was saved by the Kitchen Sink cookie, which I probably should not have eaten by myself, but I went to Zumba today. And damn…it was good!

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Teaching Tuesday: Fight!

During SRT (student resource time) I heard a shrill noise coming from outside my room. At first I couldn’t quite place it, but when it rang out a second time, I realized it was a whistle. A few years back every teacher in my school was given a whistle and told we should attach it to the lanyards that hold our IDs, which we wear around our necks. Although mine has faithfully been there ever since, I’ve never once blown it. In fact, in the 13 years I’ve been at my current school not only have I never had to blow my whistle, but I’ve never heard anyone else blow theirs either.

That’s not to say we don’t have fights at my school. We do. Sadly, they’ve been occurring with an unnerving frequency lately. However, I cannot actually recall a time there has been a fight upstairs, let alone in my hallway.

My school has two floors, but there are really only three hallways upstairs. Two of the house the science department (and really the second hallway is really only like half a hallway–there are only 4 classrooms in it). The other houses all 12 of the English classrooms,  and four history classrooms. The rest of the school is on the first floor.

Since our hallways are not very wide and they don’t hold any large intersections or gathering places (like the library, gym, cafeteria, auditorium, etc), they aren’t the place to hang out. Those honors all go to downstairs areas, which is why almost every fight that has ever happened, has happened downstairs.

But there I was, standing in my classroom listening to what I now realized was an emergency whistle. Since I knew my newspaper kids would be 100% ok for a minute while I checked out the situation, I told them to stay put and headed into the hallway. Next door, our theater teacher was ushering two boys out of her classroom as carefully as possible. Thankfully her yell, followed by the whistle shocked the boys so much that they stopped thrown punches for a moment. When she started yelling at them to get in the hallway, amazingly, they went.

When they saw not one, not two, but three other English teachers in the hallway as they emerged, they thought better of returning to punches. As she was telling one boy to stay put and one to head to the other side of the hallway, she told us that they’d started a fight in her room. One of the boys was still very upset and started punching the wall. Since there were even more teachers in the hallway now, I told her I’d get the on duty police officer upstairs and ran back into my classroom.

As soon as the call was done, I went back in the hallway and then stood between the two boys, one of whom would not stop pacing, while she went back into her room to call one of the vice principals to make an official report.

Even though there were several other teachers in the hallway, they were all hanging back a bit. I was the only one directly between the boys. I wasn’t worried as they seemed to have calmed down, or at least decided throwing more punches with a cop on the way was the quickest way to get taken out to the squad car rather than just the office.

The officer escorted the first boy, who was obviously more agitated, to the office first. Even he didn’t want to risk them getting back into it. I stayed near the other boy. When he too was removed, our drama teacher told me that she was watching the boys for another teacher who had to go to a meeting. The boys started off joking with each other in a fairly friendly manner and the next thing she knew, they were swinging.

Ironically, a student had just asked her the week before what she’d do if a fight broke out near her. She laughed and said she’d yell for our colleague across the hall who happens to not only be one of the two guys in our department, but also the basketball coach. It was his kids who got in the fight in her room and since he was in a meeting, he couldn’t help at all.

I wonder how many people realize that teachers not only have to know all of our content AND be able to relate it to an children who often wants nothing to do with it, but we also have to put ourselves physically between those children, risking harm to ourselves, to make sure they don’t beat each other bloody.

None of my education classes taught me how to separate a fight.

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Teaching Tuesdays: A fear for the future

Sometimes after a long round of grading I find myself seriously worrying about the future of our country. Tonight was one of those nights.

I spent about 5 hours this weekend reading over outlines for research papers. Although it was only one set of outlines for one class of 30 kids and only 27 of the kids actually turned in an outline, it took me just over 5 hours to grade them. That’s right, I spent about 13 minutes , making extensive comments and suggestions on each outline.

This might not have been so distressing if we hadn’t just spent the last three weeks almost completely dedicated to the research process. Although kids did not have the full 85 minute class period solely to work on their research papers, they did get between 15-30 minutes every single day just to work. The rest of the class time was spent going over how to find credible sources, how to take notes, how to write a thesis statement, how to put together an outline and how to avoid plagiarism. They had three straight weeks with about 60 minutes each day dedicated to the research process in some way.

I also might not be quite so disheartened if these weren’t seniors who have been through the research paper not once, not twice, but thrice before this year. Yes, that’s right, every single student at my school goes through the research process every single year. At this point my students should have written at least 3 other research papers, which means they’ve been taught how to find credible sources, how to take notes, how to write thesis statements, how to put together an outline and how to avoid plagiarism at least 3 other times. And that’s just in their English classes.

I also might not be as discouraged if I had not provided them an outline template which told them every single piece of information they’d need for their outline, gave them a structure they could use and had reminders like for every A there must be a B. All I asked was that they delete the instructions and my sample content from the outline before using the template. Out of the 27 kids who turned in their outlines, 7 of them turned in outlines that still had part (or all) of my instructions and sample content on them.

Only one of my students turned in an outline that I am sure will lead to a really good first draft. The rest were so lacking in details (and all but 3 were lacking any real research) that all of my contents had to be generic ones about the purpose of their papers because I wasn’t sure what their actual content really was.

Now, I know some people will argue that outlines are archaic and teaching kids to do formal outlining is old-fashioned. While that might be true, when kids don’t do any pre-writing or organizational activities, as most will not do unless forced to, their writing is even more of a train wreck. At least these tragic outlines give them a bit of a starting point. I could point out areas they’d need to expand on, or areas not mentioned in their thesis, or topics that need to be grouped together. I teach my students how to outline in the hopes that they will at least sit down and gather their thoughts and research together. My hope is that they will look at how their information is connected, see patterns and group like material together. It doesn’t always work out well (like the outlines I just graded), but when they don’t have an outline to work from it is so very worse.

My hope is that they will take all of my outline comments to heart and their first drafts, which are due on Thursday, will be marked improvements. Sadly, I know that in order for this to happen I will have to make them open their outlines in class and have them read over all of my comments right in front of me.

What worries me is that of my 30 students, 24 of them are college bound in some way. I don’t know what they are going to do next year when their professors do not have to be as patient or kind.

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Teaching Tuesday: More testing woes

Today was yet another preview of the ghost of testing future. Every junior who failed either a portion of the ISTEP+, which they have to pass in order to graduate, had to take the Accuplacer test today. Since about half of our students failed at least one portion of this test (and we did well above the state average), that meant that instead of being in class today, students had to miss first and second periods to take the test. Since Accuplacer isn’t directly related to the ISTEP+, I’m not sure why they had to take it, but they did.

Instead of being in class to read through The Crucible, they were answering math questions, which means they will have to read Act 3 on their own, without the benefit of our discussions as we read it together.

I was actually lucky as only a handful of my students had to miss class. Since it is Advanced Placement, most of my students passed. Some of my fellow teachers were not as lucky. They had over half of their students missing and had to completely cancel their lessons.

The sad bit is that this is just a preview of what is to come. This is only the second of what will be a crazy season of tests before we get to winter break. I hope we all survive.

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Teaching Tuesday: PSAT blues

I hate standardized testing. I mean, I really, really, really hate it. Not that I actually know a single teacher who is in favor of standardized testing. At least not in the quantities we have to do it.

I understand the standardized diagnostic test we give to all students in the English department during the first week of school. Each grade level has a test that has been compiled by members of my department using a standardized test questioning website in order to gauge where are students are at the start of the year. We use a similar, skills based diagnostic at the end of the year to help us measure their progress. We use this data to guide our lesson planning, create additional practice activities for students who need them and so that we can address overall weaknesses we see in students both at the high school and middle school level. It’s a great way for us to make sure we are aligning our curriculum 6-12.

However, with in the first month of school we also use NWEA to test all of the 9th and 10th graders in the entire school. Students take these tests so we can get a broader picture of where all of our students are in English, math and biology in order to better prepare them for the state mandated standardized testing they will have to do later in the year.

Today, during the third day of our second quarter, we gave all sophomores and juniors the PSAT. In order not to leave 9th and 12th graders out, they also got to spend part of the day testing. 9th graders took a pre-PSAT test (yes, you read that right) and 12th graders took the ASVAB test.

Since today was a late start day (due to PLCs), we started testing students at 9:20. Even with the speed bubbling of the required student biographical information The College Board requires, students tested for 3 solid hours. And when I say 3 solid hours, I mean most classrooms started testing at about 9:45 and finished up at 1:00.

We then had 2.5 hours to get in 4 classes. If this time could have been divided evenly, instead of our normal 85 minute blocks, we would have had 37 minutes in each class. While this is an abysmal amount of time, even it would have been better than what we got. Since we had to figure in a 25 minute lunch period for everyone and our student body is large enough that it requires 3 lunches AND we had to have passing periods to get from one class to the next, 3rd block (which is our lunch period) met for 60 minutes and the other three classes each met for 15 minutes.

Wanna guess what can be effectively taught in 15 minutes after students have spent over four hours in testing rooms and not gotten lunch until 1-1.5 hours after their usual lunch time?

Yep, you guessed it: absolutely nothing! The best I could do was explain the homework they needed to do in order to prepare for the next class. Although we’d known about the testing for weeks, we were originally told testing would be finished by 12:30, which would have allowed for over double the class time we got. So we all planned for mini-lessons. As short as those lessons would have been, they would have meant some real instructional time. Alas, it was not to be and we had to scramble at the last minute.

Now, I should be clear that I do find value in the PSAT. However, considering that we have another week of NWEA testing coming up in December, and ECA make up testing for seniors who have not yet passed the test (they need it to graduate) and the actual finals we are required to give in each of our classes, this entire loss of a day is frustrating. Especially when coupled with the additional two weeks of NWEA testing we’ll have to do in the spring; the nearly four weeks of ISTEP testing that will go on in March and  April; and AP testing, final course diagnostic testing and spring finals in May. And in addition to all of this testing is the fact that in order to prepare students for the ISTEP test, every single teacher in every single block has to do 11 constructed writing activities between November and February–even if we don’t teach students who have to take the test. Plus, all of our sophomores have to spend 15 of their 25 minute Student Resource Time every day completing math practice questions on Study Island. At times it feels like all we are doing is testing and teaching kids how to take those tests.

It’s no wonder so many kids dislike school.

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Teaching Tuesday: Grading over break

When most people who first meet me find out I’m a teacher, they make a few assumptions about what my life must be like. One of the biggest assumptions people make, and probably the one that angers me the most, is that my job is pretty easy thanks to all the vacation time I get. I cannot even count the number of people who have dismissed my job as far easier than theirs simply because of all my “vacation time.” Heck, even some of my best friends used to make comments about it.

What most people don’t understand about teaching is that while we may technically get more days when we don’t have to go in to work, it is very much balanced out by all the hours we put in for our jobs on our own “free time.”

My fall break is a perfect example. While it is true that I just finished up 10 days where I did not have to drive into school and actively teach students, I spent 7 of those 10 days grading, answering student (and parent) questions via email, responding to a plethora of emails from administrators, guidance counselors and other teachers about things that will need to be done in the next grading period and planning materials to teach in the next grading period. While I did not spend a complete 8 hours each day on these activities, I averaged at least 3 hours of my “vacation time” each day on these activities.

I know that probably still seems like a pretty good deal, right? Only working 3 hours each day and from the comfort of my own home (or, as it turns out from my best friend’s house while on vacation with my kids) doesn’t seem like anything to complain about, right? Of course those 21 hours of work are in addition to the time I spent over the weekends also grading, answering emails and planning. Once again, I averaged about 3 hours on those weekend days as well. Since weekends should be completely my own, that’s an additional 18 hours that should, in fact, have belonged completely to me.

Now, I know what a lot of people will probably argue: I should have gotten all that grading done during the first grading period. I mean, that sounds completely logical, right? Except of course, that I was already putting in 50+ hour work weeks during those 10 weeks, so in order to get all the work I did over break done during the actual grading period, that would have meant working closer to 55-60 hours per week. Keep in mind, that those extra hours come with no additional pay.

And even if this sounds completely reasonable, it’s actually an impossibility. At the end of each grading period, we have to give final exams. Our last final goes until the end of the school day, so there is actually no way to end the grading period without taking work home. Even if I’d gotten everything else graded by putting in those 60 hour work weeks, I would still have finals to grade. And since I teach English, finals mean essay questions and 110 of those take a LOT of time to grade.

And of course, even if somehow I’d managed to get all of the grading done, I’d still have to respond to emails from students, parents, administrators and coworkers. And I’d still have to make sure my lessons were prepared for the next grading period. While I always have long-term goals established before the start of every year (for the entire year) and I even have pacing guides for every unit, the day to day details have to be worked out and those change depending on the ability levels of my students, the slight fluctuations in days per grading period, changes made due to school-wide testing, convocations, weather related incidents, holidays, sick days, etc. Planning and re-planning is a constant throughout the year.

So, just in case you happen to be one of those people who think teachers have it easy because we get a ton of “vacation time,” please take a few minutes and actually ask any teachers you might meet how much of their own time they devote to their jobs. Ask them how much of that extra “vacation time,” they get is actually dedicated to their students. Just because we may get to do that work in our jammies at midnight doesn’t mean we’re not working.

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Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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