Category Archives: pet peeves

Teaching Tuesday: AP Scores

AP scores were released at the end of last week. As usual, I was on edge all day. My student scores did not get released until 8 pm, so I watched the message boards as teachers across the country posted their reactions long before I got even a hint about how well my students did on the test. My nerves were up even higher than usual since Trevor Packer’s (the head of College Board’s AP program) tweeted with the score breakdowns almost a week before we got to see our scores. When I saw AP Lang had 57.4% of students who got a 3, 4 or 5, it got me wondering how my students compared.

Even though I shouldn’t, I can’t help but compare my student’s AP scores with the national scores. I also find myself comparing their scores with the scores other students at our school get on completely different AP tests, which is really quite ridiculous. I know I shouldn’t feel inferior when I see my own school tweeting about how wonderful it is that 95% of our AP Spanish students got a 3, 4, or 5 on the test. I should not let that diminish how well my students did or make me think less of myself as a teacher, but at some point, it always does.

My AP Lang students did not do as well on the test as the AP Spanish students did. It’s pretty hard to. But, 78% of my students got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. However, no one in the district is tweeting about it. This is more than a little discouraging. Especially since last year, despite the fact that 82% of my kids got a 3, 4 or 5 on the Lang test, I was not one of the teachers recognized for having a history of excellent AP scores–even though my AP Lang score has never fallen below 78% and one year all of them got a 3, 4 or 5.

Now, I realize that neither 78% or 82% sound anywhere near as impressive as 95%. However, this year, 88% of all students who took the AP Spanish test (60,000 kids worldwide) got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. Last year, 89% of the kids who took the test got a 3, 4 or 5 on it. That means, that students at my school did 7% better than the national average this year and 9% better last year (there was a 100% rate last year). This is impressive, however, this year just under 600,000 students worldwide took the AP Lang test. That is ten times as many kids as AP Spanish. Of those nearly 600,000 kids, 57% scored a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. Last year, nearly the same number of kids took the Lang test and 55% of them got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. My students did 21% better on the test this year and 27% better on the test last year than the national average, which I think is darn impressive and worthy of celebration.

I also had nearly twice as many students take the AP Lang exam as took the AP Spanish exam.

Do I think I’m a better teacher than our AP Spanish teacher? Absolutely not. She is an amazing teacher. Those kids work to earn those scores and both she and her students should be celebrated and congratulated. But so should mine.

And that’s where I get hung up, even though I know I shouldn’t. When I first saw my student scores, before I’d seen the scores of anyone else in my building, I was pretty happy with my kids. Six of my kids got 5’s, six got 4’s and no one got a 1. My kids did 21% better than the national average. Fourteen of my students improved their AP Lang score (from their AP Lit score last year) an entire point. Two of my students improved 2 whole points. That is HUGE progress and a cause for celebration.

But then I saw those AP Spanish scores, the tweets from the school and the message of congratulations on the school website just for that class and it got me down. I wanted to send emails to everyone in my administration office as well as the district administration office explaining just how awesome it is that 78% of our kids got a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP Lang test and why it is every bit as impressive, and maybe even more impressive, as that 95%. I also wanted to include Packer’s message that unlike all the other AP tests, “the knowledge/skills measured by this exam [AP Lang] have a very strong relationship to overall college success.” On the test that specifically measures all those skills kids need to be college ready, our school not only got an impressive 78% of kids with great scores, but those scores are 21% above the national average. We should be shouting this from the rooftop because our kids are amazing and they will succeed!

Instead, I wrote an email to my students and told them how proud I was of them. I told them not to be disappointed if their score was not quite what they hoped for. I reminded them of all they accomplished and how amazing they are. I wished them luck next year, which I seriously doubt they will need. Because even if the district isn’t singing their praises and bragging about them, they are all going off prepared for college. Even the 22% who got a 2 on the exam are not going to struggle in college. They may  have to work a little harder, but they are all going to be ok.

And I have to keep telling myself that that is what really matters. Not a number on a website.

 

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Wild card Wednesday: allergies

When I was five or six, I had a crazy allergic reaction to Mr. Bubble. My aunt was babysitting me at my dad’s house. She must have brought the bubble bath with her, because I’d never used it before. All I know was that within minutes I was howling to get out of the tub (which I NEVER did as I have always adored baths) because my skin was burning. Sure enough, I had a rash on a good portion of my body and I was itchy. She called my dad, who was on duty as an EMT, who brought the ambulance over to the apartment to check me out. I was, of course, ok, and after an antihistamine, I conked out. In the morning nothing remained of my bespectacled back side.

For years I refused to use any sort of bubble bath and despite Mr. Bubble’s claim that in 2008 a new company acquired the product and switched to a gentler formula, I am wary.

It’s sort of a strange allergy to have though. Whenever I’d go to medical appointments and they’d ask if I had any allergies, I’d get slightly red faced and reply, “only Mr. Bubble.” Doctors would usually smile or chuckle, assure me I’d be fine and we’d move on.

It wasn’t until I had surgery for the first time in my early 30’s that I discovered I am also allergic to Demoral. At least I think that’s what it was. In all fairness, I was pretty out of it with pain. All I know is that I had a button I could push for pain meds and when I pushed it, I was violently ill in seconds. Since I had nothing in my stomach, all I could do was dry heave. Dry heaving is bad enough, but I’d had surgery to remove some rather large fibroids and in order to get to them, they had to mess with my stomach muscles (my scar is basically a C-section scar). It was the most horrific pain I’ve ever been in. They quickly switched me over to morphine and my life improved greatly.

But, aside from Mr. Bubble and Demoral, allergies have never really bothered me, until last week.

I have no idea what toxic bit of nature my body has decided to rebel against, but on Friday I had my first bout with what far too many people regularly suffer from. It was terrible. I was so stuffed up I could barely breathe. My throat felt raw and also blocked from all the horrible mucus raging through my body. My eyes ached. My head ached. I had no energy. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I am not a napper. But I took so many naps that day.

Thankfully my kids were wonderful. They brought me many, many cups of water. They let me nap and kept as quiet as possible (without totally destroying my house). They agreed on some sort of truce, so they only yelled at each other like once the entire day.

I took some of my husband’s OTC allergy medicine, but it had almost no effect. Turns out I had managed to find an expired bottle. I didn’t realize it until the next morning when I still felt bad, although remarkably better, and went to take another pill. When I saw the expiration date, I realized why the meds had had almost no impact, so I searched through the medicine cabinet until I found a new box of allergy meds and took one. That batch actually did some good.

By Monday I felt a lot better and thought that whatever had been in the air must be out of it. Sadly, I took comfort too soon. While I am no longer miserable and have been able to breathe freely for several days now, apparently my head is still full on congested because this morning I woke with some of the worst vertigo I’ve had in years.

I don’t get vertigo that often anymore, but for awhile, it was a regular occurrence in my life. I had high strength prescription decongestants and antivert, which doesn’t so much make me less dizzy as it does put me to sleep so I don’t care about being dizzy. But since I haven’t had an attack in a few years, I no longer have either of those two and my morning was really hard. I did have some generic Sudafed, which must have helped a bit because while I still get major waves of dizzy when I move a lot (or move my head at all), by mid-afternoon I could at least function.

I really  have to get this cleared up as I leave for the UK in 6 days and there is no way I can handle a whirlwind UK tour with 18 students when I feel like the floor might fall out from under me.

Although in many ways I know I have been lucky not to suffer from these allergies for the last 43 years, I am also very put out that suddenly, at age 43, my body has decided to plot against me and develop some new allergy. Stupid allergies!

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Free Reading Friday: Unshakeable

unshakeableMy principal gave me this book a few weeks before winter break and told me to read it if I got the chance. Unlike the Fish! book about improving morale, he wasn’t going to make Unshakeable by Angela Watson a school-wide book study. However, he’d liked it enough that he’d gone ahead and ordered a copy for every teacher in the building to read (or not read) at their leisure.

Although I am always a bit wary of books about education, I decided to go ahead and commit to reading it. I know it probably sounds odd for a teacher to say she’s wary of books about her profession. I mean, shouldn’t books about how to improve as a teacher be very important to my growth and development as a teacher?

In my experiences, I’ve found that they can be at times. But so often educational tomes are written by elementary teachers and while the advice and strategies offered are no doubt wonderful for elementary teachers, they have very little carry over into the secondary world.

I’m glad to say that Unshakeable did a better job of meeting my expectations than many education books do. While a large portion of the advice is definitely geared at elementary teachers, there are some gems in here for secondary teachers as well. Many of those gems I am already incorporating into my teaching, so it’s nice to see someone else confirm what I already believe to be best practice. Like Watson, I feel it is very important to be genuine with my students. I think they need to see the real me and know that I am not putting on some sort of educational three-ring circus in my class. I use humor and anecdotes about my life to connect to my kids. I respond to their journals and ask questions about their lives and interests and most share them with me. I take the time to get to know at least one important bit of information about every student I teach and that is hard considering I have nearly 150 students this year. But it’s important and I think it matters to my students, so I do it.

While I definitely appreciate her enthusiasm and some of her ideas, I do still see a huge elementary influence in this book. One of her early suggestions is to take time to call each parent to introduce yourself as a teacher and mention one positive note about their child. She suggests doing this in the first week or two of school. This is an awesome idea…if you have a class of 20-30 kids. She mentions that it took about an hour of her life and it was worth it. I don’t doubt it was. However, there is no conceivable way for me to do this for 150 students, especially since in the first week or two I’ve only spent a few hours with them and don’t know them (or their habits) very well yet.

I think her idea of having family festival nights or of having parents drop by the classroom before school starts is a great one, but again, with 150 students there is no physical way I could host these kind of events. The same is true of her idea to be outside the classroom and greet each student indvidually. This is a great practice and I try to do it as often as possible, however, my classes are 85 minutes long with five minute passing periods. Those passing periods are the only time I get to go to the bathroom, so as much as I’d love to stand outside my room and engage each one of my students, that’s not possible. I usually barely make it back to my room before the bell rings.

There is definitely merit in a lot of Watson writes and so much of her book is about having the right attitude while teaching, which is essential to loving the job. I just wish more secondary teachers would write these types of books because the difference between being an elementary teacher and a high school teacher is almost like the difference between being a lawyer and a judge. Yes, our jobs center on the same ideas and basic principles, but our roles and the way we apply those ideas and principles are so very different.

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Teaching Tuesday: Spring break stretch

The stretch between spring break and the end of the school year is the longest block of time in the year. Unlike every other quarter, this particular time does not contain a single day off…at least not on our schedule.

In the first quarter we get Labor Day just about half way through the grading period. During second quarter we get Thanksgiving break, which makes winter break seem like it is right around the corner. During third quarter we get MLK Day and President’s Day, which initially eases us back into school and then gives us a nice break at the midway point.

But during the final stretch we get nothing.

At this point we’ve only finished 3 full weeks of the quarter and it feels like it might never end. I know this is due primarily to the fact that the end of the year is so clearly in sight. We feel like we are creeping toward it though, not sprinting.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Housework

I saw a post on Facebook the other day that had one of those cutsie signs which read, “Please excuse the mess my kids are making memories.” This was crossed out and below it it read, “I suck at being a housewife.”

This sign, totally hit home with me. I am a good mom. I am a good teacher. I am a good wife. I am a good friend. I absolutely, positively, without a doubt, suck at being any sort of housewife.

Not that housewife is a term I take too seriously. Considering that over 60% of households are two income households, I don’t know how many women can be the housewives that our moms and grandmothers were.

I spend 8 hours a day at work. On top of that, my commute is 1.5-2 hours. Luckily my kids are in the car with me, so I get to spend time with them (and sometimes they even want to talk to me). At least three days a week I try to stop by the gym on the way home and get 30-45 minutes in (they have an awesome childcare facility and my kids love playing there). I do pretty much all of the cooking in my house, which I’m not complaining (much) about, since I like cooking and my husband does like 80% of the dishes. But, that means once I get home, I usually sit down for 10-15 minutes and then start dinner. That’s at least a good 30 minutes of work. Then, I have to sit with my kids and make sure homework gets done.

By this time it’s usually at least 7 pm, which means about 40 minutes until we start getting ready for bedtime. This is time I usually try to sneak in some grading or reading or talking to my kids. Baths and bedtimes are usually done around 8:30, which leaves me about an hour and a half before I get ready for bed. Sometimes my husband and I watch a TV show and sometimes I grade. I also check social media and personal emails during this time.

Even if I wanted to clean (and I NEVER want to clean), there really isn’t any time. At least not if I want to keep my sanity and do at least one thing that’s just for me each day.

I know the weekends should be my time to clean, but, it’s just so hard to get motivated. I have to get all the laundry done (which I know is a type of housework). I also have to get all the shopping done and run all the errands we didn’t get around to on the weekdays. My husband leaves for work on Sunday at 7:30 am and doesn’t get home until 4:30 pm, so getting cleaning done while trying to take care of my kids isn’t always easy. I usually get a general straightening done, but as to deep cleaning…yeah, that rarely happens.

Usually the only time deep cleaning gets done is when I look at a room and realize I can no longer live in this filth! To be fair, it’s never actual filth, just a general need for a good bleaching/mopping/vacuuming/scrubbing.

I know some people find cleaning therapeutic, but I will never be one of those people. No matter how much I’d like a clean house, I just don’t want to be the one cleaning it. The thought of scrubbing the shower down or mopping the kitchen floor makes me quickly start looking for any grading I can possibly do. It has me running toward the gym…and I hate running. I was just not made to be a housewife.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Lunch duty

For the past several years, my principal has decided that teachers don’t have enough to do, so instead of being able to utilize our entire prep time to grade and prepare for our upcoming classes, we have to do special prep duties. Initially these duties required us to spend time in other teacher’s classrooms, helping out when needed.

In theory, this was not a bad idea. Many of our classes are fairly large. Last semester I had a class of 32 and my poor co-worker across the hall had one of 39. Several members of our social studies department have classes over 40 and some of our PE courses number in the 50’s. Those are classroom management nightmares even for the most experienced teachers. So, the idea was that with an additional teacher in the room for some combination of 120 minutes a week, teachers could break the class into smaller groups and each teacher could supervise the smaller groups. Or, the additional teacher could work one on one with someone who was struggling. Or maybe the additional teacher could supervise students who needed to make up a test so that the rest of the class could keep moving.

Again, in theory, this didn’t sound awful. The problem, is that many teachers didn’t actually need any additional help and even for those who might, the “helper” teacher giving prep duty time wasn’t well-enough versed with the particular information being taught on a daily basis to help.

Now, I know what some people are thinking: if you are a teacher shouldn’t you be able to teach any topic in your subject area. Yes, with the right amount of preparation, you pretty much should be. The flaw, however, is that we were already giving up preparation for our own classes and to expect us to do all the reading to prepare for someone else’s classes is a beyond ridiculous. For example, I have read the Odyssey several times. I taught it for about 8  years. But, that was 12 years ago. I haven’t read or taught it and while I know the basic story, there is no way that I can walk into someone else’s classroom and just start teaching the excerpt the kids are working on. Not without actually reading and analyzing it ahead of time. About the only help I was able to give was supervising small groups, which didn’t need to happen 120 minutes each week.

For the most part, I ended up just sitting in the back of a classroom, not helping anyone and not getting further behind in my work.

These issues were looked into and my principal amended prep duty to cover a much larger variety of activities and reduced the time to 100 minutes a week. While this was much better, it still meant a lot of work I had to take home with me. Still, I was pretty ok with this plan. I always did my prep duty work and actually got some very meaningful collaborative projects created with our librarian and some of my fellow department members. I was also able to create some great resources for other members of my department.

When we came back from winter break, we found out that prep duty time was changing once again. This time, it would be cut down to 75 minutes a week, which sounds so much better in theory. However, we no longer had any say in what we would do during this time. I was assigned lunch duty.

So, every other week, I get to spend 30 minutes each day supervising lunch. While it is technically 150 minutes of duty time, since it is every other week, it works out to only 75 minutes a week, so it balances with other teachers who have bus duty or hallway duty for 15 minutes each day.

The problem, aside from the several very nasty confrontations with students that have required me to get a security officer AND the fact that I am the only staff member in my group who shows up on time to do their duty, is that because of the way they “every other week” schedule is put together, those of us on lunch duty actually end up doing an extra week of duty time each grading period (75 additional minutes each quarter). AND, because the administrators schedule everyone who has lunch duty on the rotating schedule to duty time during the first week of the grading period to help with the transition into the new grading period, it means that I am doing 3 weeks of lunch duty in a row.

I had to do lunch duty the week of finals. So, rather than getting to use my prep to get my finals together or grade them, I got to take that work home with me over spring break to complete. I also have lunch duty all this week since it is the start of a new grading period. AND, my group was picked to be the first rotating group, so I have lunch duty all next week as well. Losing 150 minutes of grading/prep time for three weeks in a row is a pretty serious issue. I am having to take more and more work home with me just to keep up. My regular 55 hour work weeks are becoming 60 hour work weeks and that is starting to seriously impact both my family and my morale. It’s hard to want to create innovative teaching materials when my time is being eaten up by lunch duty and grading.

Last quarter I wasn’t able to introduce a single new project or assignment. I did the exact same thing in all my classes that I’d done the year before. I have a feeling the same will be true this grading period. I really wish that my extra duties to the school would actually benefit my students. I have no problem giving extra time to improve my students’ education. However, I seriously resent my time being taken from my students.

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Free Reading Friday: The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleIt’s very hard to read memoirs of absolute deprivation, especially when they involve children. Even before I became a mother I found it hard not to cringe when reading stories of abused, neglected or forgotten children. Now that I am a mother, I find it even harder. I cannot imagine anything that could induce me to allow my children to suffer. I would give up everything I have in order to keep them from experience true hunger or pain. When parents are not willing to do the same, I find it hard to understand.

I knew nothing about Jeannette Walls’ life when I bought The Glass Castle. In fact, other than the fact that her memoir had been turned into a movie (which I have not yet seen), I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked her book off the shelf in the airport bookstore. However, I was getting ready to board a flight to South Carolina to spend a long weekend on the beach with friends and I knew I’d need something to read. I also knew that my Pop Sugar book challenge for 2017 included a book bought on a trip, so I purposely did not bring a book with me on the trip so I could buy one. Ok, I’ll admit I brought my Kindle, but I didn’t bring any paper bound books with me, so I would be more inclined to read whatever I picked up at the bookstore.

Since I am always on the lookout for interesting non-fiction books to bring back to my AP Language and Composition students and since I knew some of them might see this movie and want to read the story behind it, I picked this book over several other interesting looking fiction works.

I’m glad I did.

While stories of abuse and neglect are hard to read, I think they are important to read. I think it is vital that we read stories like Walls’ so that we develop better empathy for our fellow man. Stories like the ones Walls tells help to make it harder to dismiss the homeless woman we see digging through the dumpster, or the children who come to school dirty and without food. Stories like these remind us that small acts of kindness toward those who may be in need go a long way.

Of course, those lessons don’t make Walls’ stories any easier to read. Her tales of her parent’s complete abdication of their parental responsibilities are cringe worthy. Like Walls, my children were also very precocious, however, the thought of allowing either of my children at age three to operate the stove, let alone cook their own meals is appalling. The idea of allowing my children to sleep in cardboard beds under roofs that are caved in and allow rain and snow to fall into their bedrooms is hideous. The mere thought of taking my children into a bar to help me swindle people out of money at pool and then allowing grown men to take my teenage daughter upstairs is disgusting.

But there are parents who do these things and as a teacher I am thankful to memoirs like Walls’ because it makes me look harder and with more compassion toward many of my students. Because of books like these, I find myself listening more intently to students I think may be being neglected or abused. I check in with those I know have difficult home lives.

Although a great many tragic events happen in Walls’ life and in the book, she manages to keep her memoir from being too dark. She does fill it with lighter moments. And while she clearly sees the neglect and abuse her parents committed against her, she also shows a sort of understanding for them and a deep love for them.

How she managed to write so kind a memoir after finding out what her mother’s land in Texas was worth is beyond me.

This is an engaging and well-written account of Walls’ life that I am glad I read.

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