Category Archives: problems with society

Throwback Thursday: Black Friday shopping

When I was 14, my aunt took me Black Friday shopping for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Back then, the deals were impressive and most of the stores opened early, but early was 7 am.

I stayed the night at my aunt’s house and we got up at 6 am so that we could be in front of our first store, which was Zayres. My cousin, who was 7 really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll for Christmas and Zayres had the best deal on it. Our aunt was bound and determined to get one. We stood outside the store, in the pitch black with about a hundred other people just waiting for the doors to open. Since I was smaller and quicker than a lot of the adults, my aunt told me where the toy aisles were and told me to sprint for one and that she’d catch up.

As we waited for the store to officially, open, I slowly started making my way closer to the front doors.

By the time they opened, I was one of the first people in the store and as soon as I was actually in the doors, I made a mad dash to the right and headed straight for the toys. I was one of the first people to lay my hands on a Teddy Ruxpin, and after I had it, I quickly moved out of the way, using a side aisle to avoid the chaos. My aunt, who took several minutes to find me, had a cart with her, so I deposited good ol’ Teddy and we went on our merry way, her pointing out items she wanted and me swooping in to get them.

When we finished at Zayres, we headed over to the mall. Our first stop there was L.S. Ayres, where they were giving out boxes of Cracker Jack with special shopping surprises. My aunt got a 25% discount on her entire order in her box. I got a $25 gift card in mine. Seeing as how I had limited funds, that gift card allowed me to buy two different Christmas presents: a stuffed sheep dog for one of my aunt’s (it looked just like the gianormous sheepdog named Muffin she’d had when I was a child) and toy for my cousin.

We spent a few hours at the mall scooping up deals at the big department stores, then we headed over to Burger King to have breakfast. It was about 10:30 am and we were done for the day.

Over the next decade and a half, my aunt and I made Black Friday shopping a tradition. We braved earlier start times, larger crowds, crazier deals and bitter, bitter cold, all for a few hours of togetherness and some pretty sweet deals. I never really bought that much as for the majority of our shopping trips I was either in high school, college, or just starting out as a teacher with a very, very small salary. But it wasn’t really about the shopping. It was about spending time with my aunt and sometimes my cousin or my step-mom. But mostly just me and my aunt.

The year I moved to Florida was the first time in 15 years I did not go Black Friday shopping with my aunt. Since the move only lasted for 6 months, I was right back at it the next year, but it felt like something had changed. The stores were opening on Thanksgiving day. The crowds were more hostile and the stuff on sale was either way too grandiose for me, or absolutely nothing I needed.

The following year I was pregnant with my son and there was no way I was getting up that early, getting jostled by crowds or standing in the cold while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t set foot in a store on Black Friday in 11 years.

I haven’t stopped Black Friday shopping though. I’ve just joined the thousands of people all across this country who have decided that o’dark thirty in 30 degree weather amidst angry hordes is not worth it. Instead, I jumped on my computer at 7 am and started ordering away. I still had a good portion of my shopping done by 10 am, but I got to do it in the comfort of my den while sipping my tea in my jammies.

Since it was never really about the shopping for me, I don’t really miss it. But I do get nostalgic for the talks my aunt and I used to have while standing in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store, during quick car rides between stores and over sausage croissants at Burger King.


Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, cool links, cool places, entertainment, good days, life as a teacher, my childhood, my crazy family, nostalgia, problems with society, products, ramblings, what makes me me

Teaching Tuesday: Thanksgiving break

My first teaching gig definitely spoiled me when it came to Thanksgiving. Since I worked at a university laboratory school, things worked just a little bit differently.

For those who aren’t in the know, let me explain what I mean by a laboratory school. No, we didn’t have the students penned up like lab animals, but yes, we did experiments on them. Sort of. Laboratory schools, which are few and far between these days, are linked to universities with particularly strong teacher’s colleges. They exist in part to help train would be teachers. They also exist to try out new ideas in education. It’s because of experiments in laboratory schools that different types of scheduling like block 4, block 8, trimesters, balanced calendar, etc exist. Laboratory schools also exist for professors and student to conduct educational research on a wide variety of educational topics.

Don’t worry, everyone who sends their children to laboratory schools does so voluntarily (in fact there is usually a high demand and limited space in them) and with complete knowledge of the experiments, research, etc that goes on in them.

There are tons of perks to both teaching at and attending a lab school. My students were easily able to audit college classes (at almost no cost to them, but only for high school credit), take college classes for credit (at a cost to them, but some of my students graduated from high school with enough credits to be college sophomores), they were able to attend lectures from experts in a variety of fields (I got to take my high school freshmen to hear Elie Wiesel speak before we read his book Night) and, we got extra vacation days.

While we did not get every day off that the university did, we got many off that our city school corporation kids did not. When there were snow days, if the university wasn’t in session or the university closed, we didn’t have to make them up. Also, unlike every other school corporation I’ve ever worked at, we got Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week off.

Although it may not seem like much, that one extra day off was so important. My husband’s family lives in North Carolina and instead of having to set off for a 9 hour drive after working a full work day (which put us in NC between 2-3 am), we could sleep in on Wed if we wanted and still be at his parent’s house by dinner time. Plus, we got to spend three full days visiting with both his family and friends. If we decided to visit my folks, who only lived 2 hours away, I had a full day to make sure all of my grading was done so that I could actually have four restful days off.

For the past 14 years I’ve taught in regular ol’ public schools and we’ve only gotten Thursday and Friday off. When our son was born 10 years ago, we made one final trip to visit my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. Despite leaving as soon as my work day was over, we rolled in way too late with a very cranky baby who had major trouble getting back on his schedule and vowed we’d never do it again. That was our last holiday visit to North Carolina.

My in-laws are both semi-retired (my MiL is self-employed), so when we couldn’t make the travel to them work, they decided to travel to us instead. While it is a lot easier when they come here, working a full day on Wednesday still makes the prep work for house guests and Thanksgiving dinner for 11 stressful and the “break” not much of a break.

Luckily this year my in-laws decided to stay at a hotel and take the entire family out for dinner, so I got a bit more of a break.

Still, I was thrilled to learn that my school just released our 2018-2019 calendar and for the first time, we will be getting Wed-Fri off. I’m not quite sure what this will mean, but it may mean a trip to NC to see my in-laws for the holiday, something my son doesn’t remember and my daughter has never experienced.

Leave a comment

Filed under cool links, education, life as a teacher, married life, motherhood, my daughter, my son, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, teaching, travel, what makes me me

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under bad days, education, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, teaching, what makes me me

Free Reading Friday: NEED

NEEDI grabbed NEED by Joelle Charbonneau because it is one of the Eliot Rosewater book nominees for the 2017-2018 school year. One of my goals this year is to read all of The Rosie books. I didn’t really have any idea what the book was about before I picked it up. All I knew was that a student had returned it to the library after only reading 50 pages or so and said it wasn’t for them.

I’m not sure what that student was talking about, because I found the book pretty darn compelling. I love that the book starts off by establishing the difference between a WANT and a NEED. In our society today, we’ve gotten so used to having our needs met that we tend to say we need things that we definitely just want. I know I am as guilty as everyone else. I say I need a new fitness tracker, but I don’t. I have one that works just fine. And even if it didn’t, it’s certainly not a NEED…it’s a want.

As the characters find out in this book, there is a big difference between a WANT and a NEED.

Kaylee, the main character has a definite NEED, even though it’s not for her. Her younger brother needs a new kidney and not only is she not a match, but when her father finds out about his son’s disease, he disappears without getting tested.

Enter her best friend Nate, who’s just found out about a social media website called NEED. The website offers the promise to “join your friends in discovering how much better life can be when you are presented with an anonymous way to express your thoughts and are given the tools to get the things you need.” The premise of the website is simple: Ask for something you NEED, then do a little task the website asks of you and your NEED will be fulfilled.

Nate’s brother gets an iPhone and all he has to do is send friend requests to 5 of his friends to join the website, which is open only to students at their high school. Sounds great, right? Such a simple act for such a great reward.

Of course as Kaylee knows, nothing really comes for free. Although skeptical, she asks for what she needs: a new kidney for her brother.

As the story unfolds, students are asked to do more and more to fulfill their needs. One boy, spurned by the girl he likes, agrees to leave a package anonymously on her doorstep. He thinks nothing of it, as he believes he truly needs the acne cream, which he is convinced is the reason he was spurned, and leaving a package he’s not allowed to look in is really no big deal. Of course, he doesn’t know about her nut allergy or the nuts in the cookies.

NEED is a compelling story that explores the depths people will sink to when they believe they are anonymous. It also explores the idea of taking responsibilities for our actions, what we truly need versus what we merely want and the dangers of social media, all of which are excellent topics for a YA novel.

As someone who has been teaching teenagers for twenty years now, I have seen just how dangerous and addictive social media can be for teenagers and I think this book is one that will not only resonate with teens, but hopefully make them stop and think about their activities online, their own culpability for their actions and the way they treat their peers.

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, education, entertainment, life as a teacher, problems with society, products, ramblings, reading, teaching, the arts, what makes me me

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under bad days, education, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, teaching, what makes me me

Free Reading Friday: Kindness for Weakness

Even if KKindness for Weaknessindness for Weakness wasn’t one of the Eliot Rosewater nominees for 2107, I’d want to read it because Ruta Sepetys, one of my favorite new YA authors (who also has a book on the Rosie list) has a cover blurb claiming this book is a meeting between Monster and The Catcher in the Rye. To me, this is an intriguing combination, so I snapped it up.

I found the story of James, a 15 year old kid who has been abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, abused by her boyfriend and all but forgotten by his older brother who was supposed to look out for him, compelling. Even though he knows his brother is not on the level when he asks him to deliver “packages” for him, James agrees in hopes that they can be closer. Plus, he’s so used to being so severely deprived, that the pittance his brother throws him for helping out is enough to make him nearly giddy. For the first time in a long time, his belly is full. It’s hard not to sympathize with a kid like James.

James becomes an even more sympathetic character when he gets busted while on a drug run with his brother. Despite the fact that Louis, his brother, takes off and leaves James totally alone to face the consequences, James doesn’t rat him out. He doesn’t want to be perceived as a cry baby weakling. He wants to show his brother that he is strong and can do his time at juvie. After all, he had an idea of what he was getting into and he made a choice.

His understandably bad decision lands him in Morton, the one place he’s warned he doesn’t want to end up. Unlike many juvenile facilities, Morton tends to resemble jail more than a rehabilitation facility. James spends much of his time in Morton trying to figure out what true strength means. Most of his peers believe any sort of kindness is weakness. They believe they have to step to someone, even if it means more time in Morton, the hospital or the morgue. In one scene, Mr. E, who is leading a group session asks what they’d do if someone stepped on their squeaky clean Jordans without apologizing. Everyone except James believes a beat down is in order. Even when Mr. E tells them that their response will be the difference between them being part of the 86% who end up back in lock up and the 14% who make it out, few are willing to let the “slight” go because it would show too much weakness.

This book is a great look at the toxic culture that exists which forces boys and men to be “strong,” no matter what the cost. I think this is a really important book for teenagers, especially teenage boys to read. The amount of time James and Shawn Gooodman, the author, spend exploring what strength really means is important.

Leave a comment

Filed under addictions, books, cool links, education, entertainment, life as a teacher, problems with society, products, ramblings, reading, teaching, the arts, what makes me me

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under bad days, education, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, teaching, what makes me me