Category Archives: problems with society

Teaching Tuesday: Finals week

My school is on a block 4 schedule. Five years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I looked at different types of scheduling as part of a massive research paper. During my research, I found out that of the 348 public high schools in the state, we were one of 13 schools in the state still on block 4. With the start of this year, that number has dropped to single digits. Our school librarian believes we might be the last holdout.

I am actually not a huge fan of block 4 scheduling for a myriad of reasons I don’t have the time to delve into in this current blog. The only real positive about this schedule right now is that this is our finals week, which means that at the end of this week I am halfway through with my current group of students. Considering all of the whining and complaining they’ve been doing alongside the drama they are creating over a group project (which they had the option and time to do on their own), I am really ready to wrap this grading period up.

Sure, when we get back from fall break they’ll all be right back in my classroom, but hopefully the marvelous two weeks we get off for fall break (we are also on a balanced calendar), will help cool some tempers, stop some fussing and generally make me remember that at one point I really liked this group.

First I have to make it through finals though.

It’s not so much the finals themselves that make me slightly crazy. I use the same basic final each year–I just tweak it based on the amount of material we covered and the examples I used. In my Film Literature class, one section of their final requires them to watch a 30 minute clip of a movie and then analyze it for all the elements of film we’ve learned about over the course of the grading period. Every year I switch it up with a new movie clip, so that keeps it kind of fun for me.

There are two things that make finals a stressful time for me. The first is the schedule changes that happen. Rather than just keeping our already really long blocks just as they are–they are 85 minutes each–final blocks are 2 hours long. Since students only have 4 classes at a time, they take two of their finals on Thursday and two on Friday. In order to make sure there are 4 solid hours for testing each day, the other two blocks have to be shortened and we have to get rid of our student resource time, which just happens to be the time my newspaper class meets. So not only do I lose two days of class time with my newspaper kids, but since I teach the same class 1st and 4th block, tomorrow I will have one group an hour and the other for two. Sure, I’ll get the opposite of that on Friday, but for my 1st block class, they’ll have already taken the final, so I have a full hour and not much for them to really do. On top of this, to make the testing times work, instead of going to blocks 1-4 in order like we always do, tomorrow we’ll start in block 2 (which the kids will forget), test in block 2, then go to block 4 (which messes up everyone’s normal lunch time and therefore causes chaos) and then finish the day with block 3. Even after having this schedule for about 7 years it still confuses me.

Aside from the schedule shift, the other truly annoying part of finals is the rapidity in which the kids expect the finals to be graded. At our school, all the work they’ve done for the grading period is 80% of their grade. The finals they take in our classes make up the other 20%. Far too many kids slack off during the year and then they expect to pull some Hail Mary magic on the final in order to save them from failing. This is particularly frustrating for me as nearly all of my students are seniors and failing their senior English class means not graduating. The week of finals I get a steady stream of kids asking me what percentage they have to get on the final in order to get their desired grade in my class (and for far too many of them, that grade is a D).

The minute they finish taking the final they start asking when I’ll have them graded. If I don’t get them graded before break (and I almost never do as we have until the Tuesday after break to turn grades in), I get emails over break asking about their grades. I get their full on sob story as to why they so desperately need to know their grades. Interestingly, they rarely elaborate on why it took them 9 weeks to actually get concerned over what grade might fill in that blank on their report card. Nor do they comment on all the 0’s in my grade book from the assignments they never bothered to do.

As excited as I am for the start of break, I am dreading the next two days of classes. I hope we all make it out in one fairly sane piece.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Please stop parking on the sidewalk

Today we finally got a dose of fall weather. It’s still not our usual late September sweater weather, but the dip into the 70’s was very welcome after a week spent in the 80’s and 90’s. In honor of the gorgeous breeze ruffling the trees, my daughter and I decided to go on a walk around our neighborhood.

Well, I decided to go for a walk. She wanted to go for a bike ride. Once I got her all suited up in her helmet and pads, we headed off.

Our neighborhood is not very big. It’s basically one main road, which makes a circle (and therefore gets 4 different names depending on which curve of the circle you live on). I mapped it once to figure out how many miles an hour I was walking and found out that one lap around is .8 miles.

My daughter loves riding her bike, but she’s still a bit unsteady on it. She’s 7, but her training wheels just came off in June. Since our circle has sidewalks and the few people who enter our neighborhood tear through it like it’s the Indy 500 Speedway, I make her ride on the sidewalk. I think this is perfectly acceptable, especially since I walk along behind her. She has to stop every so often to let me catch up so I can scan for any hazards like cars backing out of driveways.

For the most part, our neighborhood is pretty great. It’s off a major road, but since it is small and only has one entrance/exit, only people who live in or are visiting come in. There are lots of old growth trees all around it. In fact, the entire neighborhood has an outer ring of trees separating it from various fields and apartments. Things are pretty quiet and there is almost no crime. Unless you happen to be on the main stretch of the road looking out to the busy entrance way, you’d never know we are in the ciy.

My only real complaint about my neighborhood is that people park their cars on the sidewalk.

Now, I don’t mean they jump the curb and park on the sidewalk. They park in their driveways, but instead of parking their cars next to each other (or in their garages), they park bumper to bumper so that the backs of their cars block the sidewalks.

When it’s just me out walking, it’s not really that big of a deal. It can be annoying if the grass is wet and muddy, but I can pretty easily step around their cruddy parking job and still stay out of the street. My daughter, who is still unsteady on her little bike, however, has major navigational problems.

Tonight she wiped out about a dozen times. About half of those times were because she’s also not very good with her hand breaks, so when she needs to stop, she just sort of slows down, lets the bike wobble and then falls. She’s generally good about aiming for the grass so while she may get a few stains, she doesn’t do any real damage.

The other half of her crashes were trying to avoid cars. And she wasn’t always successful.

She crashed into two cars, both of which had their tails sticking out over the sidewalk. The first one was just barely over the sidewalk, but it had a big wheel cover for a spare tire which hovered a foot or so over the sidewalk. She tried to steer herself onto the grass. She almost made it. Her handlebar didn’t quite clear it though and she sort of bounced off the tire cover and landed fairly hard on the sidewalk. I was proud that she didn’t cry. She was hurt and unhappy, but she got right back on that bike to try again.

Three houses later she was met by another car. This one covered the entire sidewalk and was on the bottom part of the driveway. I told her to get off her bike and walk it around, but she thought she could make it.

She didn’t.

This house was a particular nightmare to maneuver because they had those scalloped bricks lining the small grassy area around their mailbox, so when one side of her bike hit the back of the car and started to tilt, she was driven into those damn bricks.

To her credit, she didn’t cry this time either. And she did learn her lesson. Every time I saw a car hanging over the sidewalk I’d call for her to get off her bike and walk it around. She did. In fact, with each car hanging over the sidewalk, she started getting off of her bike just a little sooner to guarantee there was no way she’d run into another car.

I realize that there are situations where blocking the sidewalk might be temporarily necessary, however, when you live in a community, it’s kind of a jerk move. The sidewalk is there for people who want to walk. It’s there for small children on bikes or roller skates. Be kind to your fellow neighbors. Keep your car in your driveway, but not on the sidewalk.

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Teaching Tuesday: Dumb questions

Whoever said, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question,” obviously was not a teacher. Anyone who has spent any real time in the classroom knows that there are many, many, many dumb questions. Teachers get asked them every single day.

Every year I try to head off the barrage of dumb questions by telling my students right up front that there are dumb questions and that they should avoid asking them. For those of you who aren’t teachers, this probably sounds uncharitable and maybe even cruel. After all, we teach children, shouldn’t we be kinder and more supportive of their delicate egos?

Before you get angry, think of it like this: imagine your most annoying co-worker. The one who has a thousand questions that they should already know the answers to. The one who asks the same questions day after day and gets the same response every time, but just keeps asking the questions. The one you know just isn’t paying attention when questions are answered, so s/he interrupts whatever you are working on because they know you’ll have the answer.

Now, imagine that instead of one co-worker you have to interact with on a daily basis acting like this, you are surrounded by 138 co-workers like this. Seem a little less cruel now?

Ok, 138 is an exaggeration. Sure, that is the number of students I teach each day, but on any given day only about 1/3 of them ask me a dumb question. Of course, since the overwhelming majority of my students are seniors who will be going off to college, joining the military or entering the work force in less than a year, it’s a bit harder to take.

Believe me, my attempts to nip these dumb questions in the bud is really my way of making the world a slightly better place for the rest of you. I suffer so that hopefully you will not have to.

Now, you may be wondering what qualifies as a dumb question. Allow me to give you a sampling of a few I’ve had so far this week (keep in mind it’s only Tuesday).

1)What page are we supposed to be on?–This question comes after me clearly telling everyone to get out their books, waiting until their books are on their desks and then announcing the page number in a loud, clear voice no less than three times. Thankfully I rarely have to answer this question more than three times because by the fourth time another student gets so annoyed that they shout out the answer for me.

2) Did we do anything when I was absent yesterday?–It takes everything in me to suppress the sarcastic monster inside of me. The response I want to give is: “Nope, we just sat around staring at each other wondering what we should do without you. The sobbing stopped after the first 15 minutes, but as I looked around the room, lost as to how we could possibly go on, I noticed that most of your classmates still had tears in their eyes. Please don’t ever leave us again.” My decision not to give this response is only partially due to the fact that I might get a nasty email from a parent. The other reason I don’t give it is that I fear they may think I’m serious.

3) Did we have any homework last night?–I know these seems like another version of #2 on the list, and sometimes it is. However, it gets uttered a surprising number of times each day by kids who were, in fact, in class the day before. Now, I know this one may not initially seem like a dumb question. After all, kids forget. What makes it a dumb question is that all of my materials are available in Canvas, our classroom learning management system. I have a daily post that has all classwork and homework on it. I remind them of this every day for the first few weeks of school and then periodically throughout the year. Every one of my student also has a school issued Chromebook with wifi that they can check anytime they are in the building (and 85% of our students have internet access at home). See, dumb question.

4) What time does class get out?–The same time it did yesterday and the day before and the day before that. We have had the same class times for over 6 years now. Since most of my students are seniors, the majority have had the same start/stop times for over three years now. There is a large clock in my room and their Chromebooks have clocks as well.

5) Do I need to make up the test I missed?–Not, when can I make up the test I missed, but do I need to. And by test, I don’t mean a tiny pop quiz, I mean a huge test that covers a novel we’ve been studying. Again, I have to silence the voice in my head that just wants to scream, “No, everyone else has to take the test, but because you had an upset tummy yesterday, you don’t have to take it.”

See, there really are dumb questions.

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Teaching Tuesday: Sub plans

Sub plans: The bane of every teacher’s existence. After nearly twenty years of teaching, I have come to the conclusion that it is basically pointless for me to leave sub plans….at least not for the substitute teachers.

Recently, I took three personal days in order to meet up with my best friends (none of whom are teachers) for our annual best friend celebration vacation. As over the moon as I was at the prospect of spending 4.5 days basking in the sun and frolicking in the sand with some of the most important people in my life, before I could reach this little piece of friendship heaven I had to write three days worth of lesson plans.

Any teachers reading this blog are probably shaking their heads at the folly of this endeavor and screaming, “YOU FOOL!.” For those readers who are not teachers, allow me to explain. Taking even one day off of work is so much of a hassle that it is almost not worth it. I have come to school dizzy from vertigo, running fevers, feeling like I might vomit, and so exhausted from being up all night (from what turned out to be the beginnings of appendicitis) all to avoid having to get ready for a sub.

For a great many jobs out there, if an employee has to miss work, they have a list of other people who also know how to do their job and can substitute in for them. Many others are lucky enough to have the kind of job that if they have to call in, the work can just wait one day. When teachers call in, however, there is pretty much a minuscule chance that the person called to fill in for them has a teaching degree. On the off chance they do, the likelihood of the sub actually having a teaching license in the teacher’s content area is beyond remote. But, if for some reason they actually did have a teaching license in the content area, the chances of them actually being able to step in and teach the lesson…well, I’ve never heard of it happening (except for long term subs who take over the classroom due to long term illnesses and maternity leaves).

When I have to call for a substitute teacher, I know I am basically getting a babysitter.

And I’d be ok with that if they actually did what a good babysitter is supposed to: read the instructions I leave, give the instructions to the children, make sure the instructions are followed and then leave me notes about how well the instructions were followed. It sounds simple, right? I know from six months of substitute experience that if a class is well-behaved, it is, in fact, just that simple.

I realize that the discipline factor is the biggest variable in the situation. If your classroom is regularly a den of chaos, or even turns into a scene from Lord of the Flies every time you leave, getting even the best sub to follow the lesson plans might be asking too much. However, I have well-behaved classes. This is due in part to the fact that I teach mostly Advanced Placement courses and my kids are pretty much always on their best behavior, and generally afraid of breaking any rules. It’s also due in part to the fact that I have a really good rapport with my students. They respect me and know I’d be very disappointed with bad behavior in my absence, so they behave themselves. Nine times out of ten, my students actually complain to me that the subs hinder their ability to work by trying to talk to them. These are good kids.

So, before I could leave for my three day friendcation, I spent two prep periods getting all of my lesson plans in order. Every single assignment was put onto Canvas, our classroom learning management system. My kids use Canvas on a daily basis and know they just need to follow the instructions I leave them in order to get their work done. The only thing I actually need subs to do is record attendance and make sure no one gets hurt. They don’t even have to read directions to the students (which I tell them in my VERY detailed sub notes). The only thing the sub actually had to give the kids was a writing prompt handout and the access code to the online test. Before I left, everything was completely set up so that my kids would have no problems and all of their work could get done. It should have been a dream job for any sub.

What I came back to…UGH!

For starters, my AP juniors did not take the test. Despite giving the very easy to spell access code of Vacation, the sub apparently didn’t tell them it had to be capitalized. They were perplexed when it didn’t work and I guess no one thought that maybe, just maybe, it needed to be capitalized (as other test codes have been). He did, however, read the writing prompt–which was part of the test that they would do the next day– out loud to them. He even handed a copy of it out to a student who asked if he could see it, despite the fact that it was clearly labelled for handout the next day. He later offered to let several of my AP seniors get a head start on their writing prompt by showing it to them a day early. Luckily, they’ve all had me for two years and knew I would lose my mind, so they quickly declined and told me all about it via email.

The second day I had a different sub who did not give out test materials early. She did, however, read the writing prompt out loud to them. Since it was about honor codes, she started asking them all about our school honor code, looking up information on honor codes and trying to discuss it with them, all while they were trying to write their essays. The information she gave them was of no use to them as they have to answer the essay based on the six sources they are given, but she did manage to both confuse and distract them as they tried to concentrate and write.

She also decided to go through my desk drawers in search of a nail file (which she used). She also searched my drawers for pens, even though I had several out for her to use. In addition, she decided to yank open the door on my lockable cabinet, which was locked, and actually pulled hard enough that it opened, which is how I found it. Thankfully I could sort of fix it when I got back, but man was I mad!

As much as I desperately needed the break with my friends, the two days it took me to prepare to be absent, followed by the barrage of emails I got from my students about my subs AND the two days it took me to straighten out the messes they made, almost made it not worth it.

It should not be this much work not to go to work.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Tech Blues part 1

It’s not secret that for most people technology is both a blessing and a curse. I know in my life it certainly is. I have been guilty of spending too much time engaging online and not nearly enough time engaging with the actual people around me.

When my English department first went 1:1, about 10 years ago, it was hard for me to find a good balance between using the technology and being used by the technology. Thankfully, I’ve honed my skills and gotten pretty good about knowing when I really need the computers and when it would just be easier to use them. I’m all for using technology to help make life easier, but not so easy that it makes my students lazy and incapable of finding information on their own or completing simple tasks for themselves.

I’m especially against technology when it actually makes my life harder, which is what happened today.

Two years ago when my corporation switched to Canvas as our learning management system, I hopped right on board. It was very similar to Moodle, which I LOVED and found a lot of value in. I like being able to organize both LMS by topic. I like that my students have the option to turn most work in online, thus avoiding the myriad of lost or forgotten homework (on their part, not mine). I like being able to upload all of my resources online so that students can view them whenever they need them (again avoiding lost handouts and direction sheets). I like being able to give quizzes online and have them graded instantly.

My kids have been successfully maneuvering Canvas for over 5 weeks now, and last year’s group used it all year with no real issues (other than standard teenage user error). Recently, the word has come down from on high that every teacher needs to be switching over to Canvas. Obviously this is no problem for me. My pages were copied over from last year, assignments and resources all updated over the summer, and ready to go for the first day of school.

The powers that be, however, have decided that everyone has to add this special eLearning button to our Canvas pages. The only purpose this button serves is to provide a link to an attendance form (created for some odd reason as a Google Form), which can be used on eLearning days.

We’ve been utilizing eLearning days for three years now. In the past, teachers told the students their assignments (through email, Google Classroom or Canvas), students responded so that they could be counted for attendance and we input the attendance into Skyward. Easy peasy.

This year though, we have to add this button to our Canvas page so that students can access this Google Form. We still have to click on the Form to collect the responses. We still have to input the attendance into Skyward, but now with the added step of creating this button on Canvas.

Normally this would not be an issue for me. However, since none of the Canvas trainers who took us step by step through the process of creating the button use modules in Canvas, they not only could not give me the proper information about the button, but actually told me at one point I might have to completely restructure my classes in order to make room for this button.

HUH? Restructure over a year’s worth of work to create a button, that serves the exact same function as an assignment I already have on Canvas? I was livid.

After 30 minutes of extreme frustration, the realization that the trainers did not know the proper terminology, and actual tears from being told I might lose everything I worked so hard on, I figured out how to create the button. It took me less than 5 minutes to create it and copy it to all three of my classes.

Technology should not make our lives harder. Adding tech, or even just a tech button, just for the sake of having it, is a waste of time. Tech should work for teachers and students, not the other way around.

 

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Free Reading Friday: Seven Years in Tibet

Seven Years in TibetI was not very enthusiastic about Seven Years in Tibet. Although I got to pick the category for our book club this month: a book about travel, I had not input into the actual book chosen. My book club is a little wacky that way.

Usually my book club picks a genre for each month, then we all toss in a book suggestion based on the genre. We vote, and the book with the most votes is the one we read. At our July meeting, not only did we talk about the book, but we planned for the upcoming year. One of our members mentioned the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge she was trying to complete, so we decided to use it to help us guide our reading this year. This time we decided that the person who picks the category doesn’t get to toss a book into the running, hence why I had no say in the category I picked.

It was actually a bit difficult to find a copy of the book. My local library didn’t have it available in either audio book or ebook. They had copies of the print book, but it took nearly two weeks for the book to be delivered to my branch. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about physically reading the book as I had a strange feeling it was going to be very dry. I really wanted to listen to it because I thought it might help me focus more on the actual book. I know that might sound odd, but I am a very fast reader and when I’m reading a physical or ebook, I am very good at skimming over parts that bore me. I have a harder time doing that with audio books. Plus, I thought someone narrating it might make it more entertaining for me. The right performance of a book really makes a difference.

So, I opened an Audible account just for this book. I was pleasantly surprised. Although it was a little hard for me to get into at first, after about the first hour I started caring about Harrer and wanting to know about his journey. I wouldn’t say I was riveted, but I was interested.

Going into the book I knew very little about Tibet. I’ve never really read any books on it and while I was vaguely aware of the “Free Tibet” movement and the fact that the Dalai Lama was living in a certain degree of exile, I wasn’t really sure what it all meant. I remembered stories of monks burning themselves in protest somewhere in Asia when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand they were doing it because their country was being occupied by China.

Thanks to Harrer’s book, I have a much better understanding of how Tibet came under Chinese rule and the way the world basically ignored it. I also have a much better understanding of Buddhism. It was fascinating to read about how Tibet was basically off-limits to all foreign visitors, but was still a sort of melting pot for Indians, Nepalese, Chinese and native Tibetans. The history of how the Dalai Lama was discovered, the way he was raised and his personality are interesting.

While I may not have always loved Harrer’s writing style (he doesn’t have a lot of flair, but makes it clear he does not tout himself as a writer and tried to put the story down in the most straightforward way possible), I enjoyed learning so much about this rather mysterious country.

Even though I did listen to the audio book, today, with only minutes left until I finished the book, I stopped by the library to pick up the copy they had for me and was able to look at a small scattering of pictures in the book. They were definitely worth the look.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Artistic socks

Starry Night socksToday was not a good day. I can’t exactly explain everything that made it a bad day. It was just one of those days that by lunch time, I was ready to tear my own hair out. And when I gathered with my fellow teachers, ready to unleash the tide of small annoyances and inconveniences that seemed to be ruling the day, I found I wasn’t alone.

Although my work friends and I gather almost every day to eat lunch together, it is rarely a complaint fest. Generally lunch is a time when we guffaw over something silly a student has said or some unfortunate word choice we’ve made in class that we thought nothing of, but the kids nearly lost it over. There was no joy in Mudville today though. As soon as I entered the room, desperate for sympathetic ears to vent to, I found out that because my lunch had taken longer to heat up than normal, I’d already missed every other member of the group releasing their frustrations. They let me go off the rails for a few minutes and all commiserated. Before lunch was even over, another member of our department came down to apologize for being so grumpy at the morning meeting because she too was just having one of those days. We all assured her that in our own funks we’d hardly noticed.

I could go on and on and on here over my frustrations. If I was the type of person to drowned my sorrows in alcohol, I might be going through a bottle of wine tonight. Instead, I fed my anger/annoyance/frustrations with a chocolate chip cookie. Although it did not even kind of solve my problems or really make me feel any better, I have decided not to vent anymore today.

wave socksInstead, I am going to lighten my mood, and talk about the amazingly fun socks I wore today. Last year I did an Amazon search for “tall socks.” I have these super cute black boots that I love to wear. However, the have a slightly odd cut to them and if I do not have really tall socks, the material on the top edges rubs against my leg (they are not at all tight, they smack into the back of my calf when I walk) and it is horribly uncomfy.

While my search did not quite turn up what I wanted (I just have to wear the boots with leggings), it did help me find these fun, funky art socks. Although they may not have been able to totally improve my day, just looking at them now does make me a bit happier.

As a rule, I don’t wear socks. If I had my way, I would wear some sort of sandal all year long. Unfortunately in Indiana, despite many years of trying to make any type of weather sandal weather (yes, in college I once had to call a friend to pick me up from work because I’d worn sandals and while I was in the office it had started to snow and I knew I would not be able to walk all the way back to my apartment without losing a toe), I have had to give in and buy “real shoes.” I am known for my poor choice of footwear. On any given occasion, I am always wearing the wrong thing on my feet. Unless I am going to the gym, I try to avoid having socks on.

The Scream socksStill, from time to time I must wear them, so I like for them to be something fun. My favorite pair are probably my purple Shakespeare socks. Although I do like the ones with the curse words on them too, especially when I have them hidden by my pant legs at school.

Days like today it is especially helpful to know that while I can’t actually let loose with the giant scream that is welling up inside me in the middle of my class, at least I can take comfort in the fact that my socks are screaming for me.

 

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