Thursday, December 31, 2009

Closing Out the Year

About 2 weeks ago, in a building located in our nation's capital, I officially went into the record books as being scottish. The headquarters of the DAR (Daughter's of the American Revolution) approved my application to become a member, after several years of hunting down records connecting me with my Scottish immigrant ancestor, Daniel Bartholomew who arrived in America on the fateful day of July 4, 1776.

Becoming a member of this honored society has been a goal for many years and is just one of the many things I am able to celebrate this year. I've got quite a list, as you'll see below.  I don't know why I'm obsessed with my ancestry (Scottish, Italian, English, Germany, Irish & Welsh) but for me, it forms not only who I am but my link with history and all of its discoveries and stories. So each December 31st as people put together their list of resolutions, I prefer to look back at all the good things that have happened over the year. My stories. My history. The resolutions are something I think should be dealt with each day, not just at the dawn of a new year.
And so, if you feel so inclined, my list of celebrations. My little history of 2009 is below. Enjoy.

(In no particular order)
1. Getting a full-time teaching job at Urbana High School
2. Becoming a member of the DAR
3. Adding another year of swing dancing to my dance card
4. Reconnecting with old friends through facebook
5. The birth of another baby amongst my friends
6. Working at Wrigley Field for Rascal Flatts & Billy Joel/Elton John
7. Working for 2 days in the rain for O.A.R. who thanked me with gift cards
8. Moving to Urbana
9. Attending Summerfest in Milwaukee after a 2 year absence
10. Playing beach volleyball
11. Watching Wellspring, my small group, expand and grow
12. Watching my new favorite TV show, Psych
13. Reading Echo in the Bone which finally was released only to be left with more cliffhangers!
14. Participating in Lyrics for Life day in September
15. Participating in the Chicago Olympic Bid process
16. Seeing the Leon's back up from Peru for a few weeks
17. Discovering the music of Snow Patrol & Tyrone Wells
18. Singing in the staff performance at the Winter Assembly in Urbana
19. Many, many nights at Fizz & Summer Dance
20. Watching Park Community Church truly work hard to transform Chicago & its Family
21. Becoming a true WXRT fan
22. Learning the Shim Sham
23. Begin writing as a pen-pal with a distant family member in Italy
24. Watching the final season of BBC's Robin Hood
25. Plenty of time spent with girlfriends
26. Developing new friendships in Urbana
27. Seeing Public Enemies after having watched it being filmed in Chicago
28. Movie/Game nights on Chicago Ave at the crooked apartment
29. Discovering I can become an Italian citizen
30. Being invited to a private swing lesson with Tom, a fellow dancer
31. Finding the Champaign swing scene, despite it being nothing like Chicago's scene
32. A weekend in Michigan with friends before moving
33. Visits by Sarah, Amy & Kathryn to see me in Champaign!

There are plenty more I could add, but that's as long of a list as I'd like to make.

Tomorrow marks the new dawn of a new day. A new year. A new decade. Use it as motivation to do good, be good and share some good with everyone around you! Make your own history. 


Monday, December 21, 2009


School is out! At least for 2009. And it's been a good 1st semester. We've got 2 weeks left of it when the new year ushers us all back through those doors but for now, I get to take a break from writing about school and share some stories from the northern lands (okay, really just Chicago).

I began my vacation with a night seeing Sister Hazel at House of Blues, my usual concert this time of year. They ALWAYS put on a good show and this was no exception. I brought along two Hazel newbies, my friend Laura whom I have known almost forever and Kathryn, whom I have known for a few years through swing dancing. I picked up Laura on my way up to the city. Had a brief play date with her kids (my nephew and niece) and Todd, another long-time friend before celebrating a brief Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony and then driving the rest of the way to Chitown.

Kathryn met us at HOB, reserving a seat in the restaurant for dinner so that we can "pass the line" when doors opened. I had panicked all week that we wouldn't be able to do this fantastic little feature but she was seated at 5:45 and told the staff we wouldn't arrive till 6:15 (which was a pretty rough estimate). They didn't bat an eye and we showed up at Marina City at 6:15 on the nose despite some traffic on Lake Shore. 

The show as always was genuine, rocking and fun. At one point, Drew pulled out $100 a bought drinks for the crowd. We secured one such drink and kept rocking out. The unique thing about their audience compared to most bands is that the crowd is pretty much split 50/50 men and women. It would be a dream to meet my guy at a Hazel show but I'm not sure what fate has in the cards in that department. It is quite funny to see guys singing full bore on rock songs AND the ballads. Love it.

Last night was a gathering of Chicago runners. For those unfamiliar with what a runner is (and I don't mean the athletic kind) we are the folks who basically keep a concert running. We get anything that might be needed for artist and crew (from groceries to truck parts to cigarettes) and drive artist & crew to hotels, the apple store and any other location you can imagine. Next time you are in Chicago or near Assembly Hall in Champaign and see a white, 15-passenger van go by, you may wonder if it is a runner going by with precious cargo. 

Anyway, the runners did their 2nd Annual bowling night. The gathering was a bit smaller than last year but no less fun. There were plenty of stories to go around. Some good. Some less so. artists from all walks of life. People from every facet of the business. Even dirt on each other. There is talk that a yearbook will be created next year. Now THAT will be something to see.

Tonight I am going out dancing. Swing style. It is the 9th annual Christmas Swing, Trivia & Ugly Sweater contest at Fizz, Chicago's premier swing locale on Monday nights. It has been 8 weeks since I have swing danced (Halloween was the last time). Hopefully I still have it. Before that commences though, there is bowling fun to be had with my high school friends. I don't think any of us has bowled in a long time, except my foray last night. With these friends though, it doesn't matter how the bowling goes, its the conversation and togetherness that makes it so special.

Well, I'm off to my adventures. I'll have more hiatus fun when the next blog hits the press. Happy Holidays. May your days be merry and bright. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Life Got In the Way

Back in 2002 two of my favorite songwriters teamed up to to write a song called Life Got in the Way. (Ken Block & Richard Marx). The song describes how life gets in the way of plans you have for your life from time to time. 

I've had some time to be reflective and introspective the last 2 weeks and can honestly say, life got in the way. I had a lot of plans to get ahead in planning school lessons, getting my evaluation binders back together and getting my finals and review guides ready for January. 

On the Monday before Thanksgiving I found out my Grandmother was approaching her final few days on this side of Heaven. It was at once both a tough phone call to receive and one that was a bit of a stress reliever. Gram has been a victim of alzheimers for the last 3 years. 2 years ago we moved her up from Florida in order to have her n
earer to family members. In that time, my immediate family has spent many a day traveling the hour or so west of Chicago where she was being cared for. This past June was among my last times seeing her. She didn't recognize me or know my name. It was her 90th birthday. While sad, I was nonetheless (great word) happy to share that day with her, her sister and my Mother.

On Wednesday morning on my drive to work I found out Gram had passed away. I knew it was coming, but knowing still doesn't prepare your heart for the floodgates of emotions that surge through you when reality hits. With that one phone call I not only felt much stress depart, at wondering when her passing would happen but also the stress of realizing I wasn't going to be able to do much in the way of planning during what was supposed to be "Thanksgiving Break."

So I sat at our new teacher meeting tonight and frustration that I've felt since coming back from "Break" boiled over,  although its source eluded me until later this evening. Our evaluations are happening now and mine is on Friday. We need to submit our daily lesson plans to our evaluators (mine is the principal). I thought I was bothered by the fact that I technically have 4 preps and had WAY more to submit for evaluation than many other folks. In reality, I think my frustration stems more from the fact that I haven't had a real 2+days off yet since mid-November. I'm still playing catch up with lesson planning. I'm worried about getting review guides done next week. I've got a penchant for being ahead on planning not to-date on planning and it is just plain stressing me out!

Now, only a select few people know all this has happened over the last few weeks. I don't want the world to pity me. It truly is a blessing that Gram has passed as peacefully as she did and that her battle is now finished. There were a lot of folks up There that were calling her home and that thought alone is beautiful.

I think I won't finally be at peace with it all until she is buried, which is sometime in the next few days. In the meantime, I'm going to agree with Ken & Richard and acknowledge that life gets in the way. But it is up to me to push through those roadblocks and trudge forward. I'm a glass 1/2 full person and I need to stop seeing the glass as 1/2 empty in my mind. The good news right now? All these lessons and binders and worksheets that are in my notebook will be done for all of time, minus any tweaking I do down the road.

Now that is some advanced planning....
(This post is dedicated to Gram. Love you always.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rookie Mistakes

I made my first big rookie mistake today. It was one of those sounds-great-at-the-time things that ended up probably being more work for me than my students.

On Friday, I gave all 3 of my classes review sheets with the repeated phrase, quiz on Monday. Now, I always give out a review sheet the day before the test and unless I specifically put in their calendar that there is a 2 day study period, it is just a 1 day deal.

My Coop kids walked in and did pretty well on theirs in both classes. My law students...well not so much. Most of them thought the quiz was Tuesday (uh, hello??? Said it several times that quiz was Monday!) Where the mistake you ask? My brain fired up and my mouth responded before I had time to process what my brain was concocting. Here is how it went.

ME: How many people would like one more review day?
STUDENTS: 90% raise hands.
ME: Here's the deal. If you want to take the quiz today, you may take it. If you wait until tomorrow, it will be a much harder quiz. How many of you want to wait till tomorrow? 
STUDENTS: 80% raise their hands.
ME: Okay. How many people want to take the easier quiz today? If you do, please move to the front of the room. Those of you waiting until tomorrow pull out your study guides and move to the back of the classroom.
STUDENTS: 6 students move to the front of the room.

Did you catch it? Yeah, that was more work I created for myself. Fantastic KB! You've cleared your plate for the rest of the week except for grading quizzes, review guides and timesheets and you create MORE work for yourself! Geez!

Now, some of those kids did get 100% on the quiz. Some got D's. I am offering those folks who stepped up a chance at a retake of the quiz tomorrow if they did not like their grade. It's only fair after all. The new quizzes are all typed and copied for tomorrow. An extra 12 questions and 2-3 extra credit instead of 5. (The extra credit consists of terms from earlier in the year to start "reviewing" for the final in January).

The plus side of this scenario is that now I don't have to figure out what video to show on Wednesday. Sweet! The other plus is that I've got the unit on Renting nearly finished for when we come back from break. All I have to do is write the review guide and choose quiz questions. 

I think I may do a review game for the next chapter and make them do the review guide for homework. Force them to study (or copy) answers from their books and notes. I think my game of choice may be good for them. There is only 1 way to find out...

I'm once again off to sleep. What a long day. Teaching. Meeting. Workout. Long phone calls. At least it is Thanksgiving week. And I am thankful for a 4 day weekend!

G'nite y'all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Importance of Making Others Important

I realized tonight the great responsibility teachers have. I'm not talking about what we do every day in the classroom. I'm talking about the stuff we do outside the classroom.

This week alone (and it's only Tuesday) I've done some things that I'm beginning to realize are extraordinary in this town. 

For example, I just got home from the 1st Orchestra concert of the year. I have 3 students in orchestra, 2 in Law and 1 in Coop. The three of them represent a variety of learning styles and aptitudes. That's the beautiful thing about music. At any rate, I went to the concert tonight. What I was expecting was a packed auditorium, just like it was when I was in high school or at Sandburg & Hinsdale Central. But here, there was a sprinkling of parents. I didn't see a single person I recognized, including teachers. My heart fell when I entered that room. 

What Urbana is lacking in a major way is support of its students. There are probably 60-80 students in orchestra. There were probably 25 pairs of people there. Really? Even parents don't display support of their children. I understand that many of them may be at work, as this is a working class town, but I have the feeling that many of them just needed a break or had other children to be with. What of the rest of the community? 

This is where my marketing brain fires up. Did they put posters around the community? Was there even a way for the folks detached from the high school to know this was going on? The orchestra teacher is very talented. She definitely showed compassion for her students. I think she talked to them as though they were still in the classroom though. She told them to be quiet. She told them to clean up the stage. She told them how to get on and off the stage "as we practiced." If teachers are the role models and this was a big event, the students need to see us outside of the room we sit in every day and how to role model behavior that demonstrates that in public, in a different forum, things proceed differently. She treated them like they were in the classroom so I think some of them acted like they were in the classroom. After all, many of their parents were not there so who else would keep them in check?

The other thing I did was yesterday. I have 3 students still looking for jobs. I walked the entire mall last night (1.5 hours) and got every job application I could get and inquired to see who was hiring and who had completed the search for holiday workers. (I did skip the maternity stores and jewelry stores). I told both classes of my findings. It was up to them to peek at the applications, tell me which ones they may want to copy and turn in (to the store) or to come see me in my office to get a copy. One of the 3 took up the offer. Another didn't budge. The third was absent for the 5th day in a row. I've also arranged a large number of volunteer hours so that students can get volunteer extra credit (It is work after all). They of course don't see the fact that I'm going to spending HOURS at these locations doing gift wrap or that they are only signing up for an hour or two. Even the ones who desperately need hours aren't signing up (except my one student who took an application). I'm going to have to make it mandatory for the other 2. 

I think one of my goals is going to have to push for greater parent and community involvement in what I do. Or what my students do. It is just so sad to walk into a building where artists, athletes and other talent is being displayed to a little, tiny audience. Time shall have to tell....

For now, I've taken the night 'off' and have just 6 more items to complete before Thanksgiving Break. Then it's DVD time. More on that at a later date.

Stay dry folks! I'm heading to sleep....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Parent Teacher Conferences - Day 1

Yesterday is what some have called the longest day of the year. Parent Teacher Conferences at Urbana run from 4-8 on Thursday and then today, Friday, from 8-11. What that does is give us 1.5 days of work on Thursday and a half day on Friday.  I think I'd rather go all night long then have no work today, but as it is, I'm going to get to work at 8 instead of 7:30 today.

I had 3 scheduled parents yesterday and 1 pop-in parent. My parents are generally half A/B students and half D/F students. My first parent (guardian actually) really just wanted to know how to get her son's grades up. He's slowly increasing his grades in my law class. The conference was quick and pretty good. The 2nd one was a pop in for a A student. His mom is great at keeping him on task. Hopefully he'll take what his mom is teaching him and use it someday in real life. For now, I just had to explain to him that what he learns now is really for future benefit. And the fact that he gets a class like law in high school is really lucky. We didn't have classes that prepped us for the future when I was in high school. Unless you count home ec and econ.

My 3rd parent was for another A student. I had little to share with them outside of what I said to them at Open House. He's a really involved student with great parents and is one of my few true, honest-to-goodness hard workers.

My 4th set of parents were for a Coop student who hasn't really done any work and still hasn't gotten a job (the only 1).  She stepped up this week but the toughest part with this conference was that the students wanted to know how she got into the Coop program! I had to explain that that decision was made in the spring and that hopefully the counselors had made the right decision. They did not like the fact that their daughter, who they felt was a bit irresponsible, was in a program where she could get out of school early. Overall, I expressed what needed to be done so that she could pass and it ended well. 

Today I have 4 more conferences. Update when I can. I'm heading to Chicago so it may be a few days till an update! 

Stay smart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2 more referrals

Greetings from a scarce dry day in east-central illinois.
As teachers and people go, I'm probably one of the most lenient and willing to give someone a 2nd chance to make a better impression, say the right thing, or prove they are trustworthy. My father taught much the same way (I asked him last night) and so it comes naturally. I like to believe everyone is good and somewhere deep down know that the right way really is the right way.

It's a true fact that teenage brains are still developing. The Y generation is the NOW generation. They want things to be done instantly and want to react instantly. I know it but I have hope that at least a few of my students know when to rein it in. Naive? Maybe. But if I'm teaching as well as I think I am, by the end of the year some of these students will have learned patience and how to bite their tongue.

For now though, we have a long way to go. I have one student who has repeatedly acted defiantly towards me. She didn't have a job for a while. Then she got one after a ton of medical tests required for pre-employment (it was a hospital) and finally after a week of work and complaining how gross the patients could be and how rough washing floors could be, she was fired. There were a few positives in her daily input in class such as how much more over minimum wage those in her position make. Since that firing, she's used every excuse she could give me as to why she can't get a job. She's also missed several days. On top if it all, there is animosity between this student and the others in the class. Typical teenage stuff without any budging from how one feels about the other. Now my fired student has made great strides in trying to communicate and work with the rest in the class (coincidentally my smallest class of students at 7). The other folks not so much. All of these factors erupted into a week of explosions from both groups of students in my little class.

On Tuesday when I went over grades with my students, my fired student told me her excuses and I offered to even sit with her and help her fill out apps on the computer in my office. She had none of it. I was told after a few semi-pleasant exchanges, "kiss my a**". My student then stormed out of the room. I've made a little headway into helping this student feel better about herself. I've praised her writing which is among the best of all my students. I've praised her work ethic when she actually turns assignments in. I've also explained the things she needs to take on herself to succeed. And that's where the rub is apparently. I really, really dislike swearing. I think it's a form of speech that is unnecessary and has lost meaning. Those words you say need not be said and other, more powerful words make more sense than swear words. Check the dictionary. Improve your vocabulary.

Round two of the explosions was yesterday. My student was back and the class was down to 4 that day. We were talking about life lessons. One in particular was that if you think your teachers are tough, wait till you meet your first full-time boss. One of my male students who had been in a tiff with his mother (also his boss) said how he hated his boss right now. My normally quiet, fired student piped up that she thought his mom was a good boss when she worked for her. Well, my male student was like a match lit near a gas pump. He swore at her and said she didn't know what she was talking about. My fired student stormed out of the room for the 2nd day in a row and thus began a 15 minute lecture on my key life lesson: Think before you open your mouth. It's better to fill the air with potpourri than cow pies.

Neither student was in class today. I had submitted a referral for both yesterday afternoon. My fired student was suspended for speaking to me the way she did. The other got saturday detention and a day in dean's restricted assignment. It frustrates me because now both are missing class. And neither are likely learn their lesson or change their ways in the next few days. 

I'm sure there will be a future blog related to this week. I'll let you all know when it arises. In the meantime, I am trying to get every kid a job - even the fired ones. It's holiday hiring season. There are NO excuses. I think some of those sociologists are right. The Y generation is also the Lazy generation. Too much coddling and helping get by. Technology making everything easier. Perhaps that should be my other big life lesson. Paychecks list your "earnings" for a reason.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

My First Really Big Teaching Success Story

Since the start of the school year I wanted to set up an Interview Seminar for my students. Sort of a way for them to get interview practice. Over the last 2 years I've done probably 10 real job interviews and another 100 mini-interviews at job fairs. I've learned some extremely important things that I wouldn't have known without having done so many interviews.

Over the last few weeks I've been talking to employers that currently employ my students and to other people in the community. I had a ton of interest and just didn't know if I could pull it off in time to coincide with our unit on preparing for jobs. My coworker, Tammy, who teaches a similar course for students 14-15 years old thought it would be a good thing for her students to do and she jumped on the bandwagon. Together, I think we pulled off an amazing event.

On Friday morning, during the 1st two periods of the day, about 40 students, most of them dressed professionally as required, began to sat at tables with representatives in the community. I had people from ConAir (of hairdryer fame who is one of Champaign County's largest employers), City of Urbana, Busey Bank, Carle Hospital, U of IL and more. 

Some of my students now have internship and job leads for post-high school. Some of these students will graduate in January and others in June and will hopefully be able to snatch up these opportunities. Some of them impressed the "Interview Specialists" so much that I was told they interviewed better than some of the adults that come through the door for real interviews. 

It was a very successful day and I can't wait to host the 2nd annual Interview Seminar next fall. It will be even bigger and better. Many of the people who wanted to be an "Interview Specialist' were hit by H1N1 at their office or had meetings that prevented them from coming in on Friday. Next year, I'll be able to plan this further in advance and make this a really, big deal. 

I'm so happy this went well. Now if only I can get these kids to take their future's seriously. Some I think began to get how big an interview will be for their future. Some just did extra interviews to get the extra credit I was offering. With a recent study out last week stating that 1 in 4 18-19 year olds will not have a job, my biggest task is to make these kids employable and make them see that what I'm teaching them REALLY DOES apply to the real world.

Monday is on the horizon. The goal remains. The outcome is still unknown. This Tuesday marks 1/4 complete in the school year. 1st Quarter grades in and over with. I've probably lost that 25 percent of kids that won't get the job after high school. Honestly, I've got 4 F's and 1 D in my Coop classes. The ones that aren't coming to school and aren't turning things in. Not much more I can do there but keep calling parents and keep emphasizing work ethics. I've got 3/4 of a year to go to convince the other 3/4 of the kids in my classes that WILL get those jobs to work for it. 

You think your Monday's are tough? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Always Extracurricular!

With the Homecoming festivities over I thought I'd settle into a normal week. Monday went smoothly but I've discovered pretty quickly today that I'm in for another busy week! First a quick recap on the last few days...

1)Friday 10/16 - Freshmen, my freshmen, won 2nd place for our Homecoming Float. 

2)Tailgreat (the party before the football game) happened just after the parade of floats and teams. We broke even on our Walking Taco sales. (Walking tacos are individual-sized bags of Fritos/Doritos that you scoop taco meat and the fixings into and then add a spoon). We sold them for $2.50 only to find out someone else had been approved to sell them and was selling for $1. Not bad considering we broke even. I think the "combo meal" with Capri Sun helped!

3) Football Game - our sad football team hit the field with high hopes. It was the most packed crowd yet. I left just after half time, once I assisted in getting the Homecoming Court on the field. The score then was 31 to 2 (yes, we got a safety and 2 points without even touching the ball). The final was 52-2. Ouch.

4) Saturday 10/17 Homecoming Dance - The Commons (lunchroom) is festooned with club lights along the ceiling that can be set on several settings. It reminded me of a club in Europe. Kids had fun. I basically watched them dance. If you can call it dancing, that is. I've learned that rock is dead, hip-hop and rap are the coolest thing to listen to, although Taylor Swift somehow figures into the mix. And Mariah Carey's remix of an old Foreigner song. I may have been the only one there to know who the original singer was. Home by midnight and sound asleep. Wow.

Sunday I hosted left over taco night. Had a few folks over. Good times. And more football. Teams tend to lose when I watch. No wonder I never got into this game.

Yesterday, I had a good work day. Meeting after school which covered everything from asthma to professional development.  I spent the evening doing a bit of work then headed to Parkland College to Part 2 of Italian. No one showed. I think it was cancelled but there was no notice. Bummer. I'll have to stay in the know till I head to Italy this summer for language courses!

Today, a busy work day. My alarm didn't go off so I was a bit befuddled this morning.  (First I use festooned and now befuddled. Am I living in 1860 Georgia?). Prepping for my big Interview Seminar on Friday. It's not turning out the way I wanted. Lots of my key interview folks have people out with H1N1 at work and can't make it. Hopefully it still turns out cool. If not, I have lots of people really interested in helping next year. Ya gotta start somewhere! 

Anyway, After school was a new teacher meeting. That went well. I took a 1 hour 15 min workout time at the gym which was great - abs and thighs targeting. I will have trouble walking tomorrow. After that I went to watch the Champaign-Urbana swim tournament. My 2nd swim meet this year. We need to work on flip turns. I left 2/3 through the swim meet to check out the Volley For the Cure tournament between Champaign & Urbana also taking place. I got to watch my 2 favorite sports in one night. How lucky am I? I got home around 9pm (nearly bedtime) and did work on a powerpoint for law tomorrow. It started out at 64 slides and I've got it down to 30. Now THAT is what I call work.

Enjoy the recap. It's a bit dry this week but I'm sure the next one will have more interest. And I'll get parade float photos up soon.  Buonanotte.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Homecoming: Also known as how do I fit all this stuff into 5 days?

I was going to wait until the end of the weekend to write this blog but I'm quickly discovering there is just too much going on to wait until after Sunday.

It's Homecoming week. As a new teacher, I'm finding out that this means lots of odd outfits (more so than in Hinsdale or Orland Park) and intense class battles, class color t-shirts and apparently chanting this coming Friday at the assembly.

The last 2 evenings I've spent at the public transit bus depot building a float with my freshmen. Last night went well. Most everyone worked hard and most got along well. They downed nearly 10 whole pizzas and lots of Capri Sun. 4 hours of work seemed to produce greater progress than the other 3 classes and we had more students than the rest. At right is our Tiger who is singing (Tiger Idol is our float theme).

Yesterday was also Celebrity Tuesday. I had a variety of "people" in class. Today was Animal day. I'm not sure what some of my kids were dressed as.

Tomorrow I hear is the craziest day of the year. Lots of yelling. I plan on teaching then leaving to buy supplies for the student tailgate tomorrow. The Freshmen class is making walking tacos as a fundraiser at "tailgreat" and I'm the one with a free schedule in the afternoon so I'm gonna go buy. Good luck to me! Tomorrow night is our last night of float building. We have a ways to go but I think we can do it in our 2 hour time frame. I'll be sure to snap a photo in the parade on Friday.

Friday is class, then assembly then the parade followed by tailgreat and football game. Saturday is the Homecoming Dance which I am required to chaperon. Should be interesting. 

I've got to sleep now. You can tell from the randomness of this post that I'm tired. Expect more of the same on the next one!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Breaking the Rules Can Be Dangerous

I woke up yesterday and just felt - different. It was pouring rain outside. Okay, to be honest it was about to pour rain outside, according to our local meteorologist who I believe is younger than I am. Anyway, I decided to get ready as quick as I could and head to work before the rain really set in.

As soon as I put my foot on the ground after watching the weather I knew in my head I was not going to obey any of my rainy day rules. I don't know why. I'm usually really strict with my rules and any rule in general. That habit in and of itself can be dangerous, when you aren't willing to sway from the line. But here are the rules I broke that I never break.
1) Don't wear white on days it rains. I don't think I need to go into detail there. 
2) Don't wear jeans on days it is going to precipitate. I learned that lesson at Great America in 5th grade.
3) Don't straighten your hair on wet days. It's going to fight its way back to curl all day.

So there you are. My 3 top rainy day rules. And I wore jeans, a white shirt with my pink blazer and straightened my hair because it is getting to long and has become a replica of Medusa minus the snakes.

I suppose you could argue I was paid back for my nonchalance. I wrote my first student referral yesterday. I had 2 female students go to the hallway to make up a business law quiz. It is never my first choice, since I don't think students should miss class time but they had both already made up another quiz earlier in the week. My custom is to typically poke my head into the hall to make sure no one is discussing answers, to ensure other students walking by don't stop to chat and to make sure students aren't cheating in some other form. 

Unfortunately for me, one of the girls had slipped a folder out in the hall with her quiz and I looked at the moment she opened the folder part-way to look at a sheet of paper inside. On that paper were notes for the chapter the quiz covered. I hated to take both items away but, being the rule stickler I am, took both and issued the zero grade. She seems like a good kid. Full of energy and always willing to participate in discussion. It may have broke my heart more than hers. 

I found the girl later in the day and gave her back her notes so she could study this weekend for the Unit Test. I have a feeling I'm supposed to impact this girl's life in a positive way. I learned a bit more about her yesterday and I want to be a person she can come to. That's my new goal.

Also in the category of payback, I got into my car at 3:15 yesterday and began a drive to a student's worksite.  Less than 2 minutes into the drive I realized my rear end was soaking wet. My seat was completely soaked through but the rest of the interior in my car was dry as California brush. It took me an hour in my car between the worksite, home, the gym then home again to realize the seal on my windshield was leaking. 

It has rained for 2 days straight. I sat during meetings today and watched it fall while sitting in the library. It was beautiful. Straight down rain, like a shower on a weak spray setting that happens to cover a huge swath of land. 

Tomorrow I will wake up without any rain and head up to Chicago. My car will have a few days to dry out (I hope). I'll be dry and have almost all my "homework" completed and ready to go for next week. I need this trip north. Next week is Homecoming and there will be very little time for me to enjoy the week with float building every night, Italian class, football game and the Dance on Saturday evening. 

Home. I'm in a place where this place, Champaign-Urbana, feels like home. But Chicago is home too and one I haven't seen in nearly 2 months. I wonder what kind of home it will feel like? I'm excited to experience it. I'm also looking forward to the business of next week. 

I'll be sure to follow the rules.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Ins and Outs of Early October

I'm long overdue for a blog post and as I lay in bed here in the early hours of night I decided to pop back out of bed and put a few thoughts down on this past week.

First of all, I had my evaluation and post-evaluation meeting. I believe it went well. Basically I need to do a better job of checking for understanding during class. I was told to use the popsicle stick method to call on names. I've decided that a great time to do that is just after the Unit Test this week. Or perhaps while studying for the Unit Test. I'll play around with it. First I need to go buy some popsicle sticks. I'm not really good at asking questions and didn't have many to ask. I'm lucky though. Our principal is one who is very approachable and I think that as I do develop questions through the year I've got a wealth of people I can call on to help me out.

The next topic is one I am sad to report. My beloved city, Chicago, failed in their chance to win the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Despite my small involvement from the 100 degree temps at the 2007 marathon to the icy chill and hail of this past spring when the IOC came for their visit, I was thrilled to be a part of something I knew could be big and have a lasting impact on this city. I believe in my heart Chicago will get the Olympics someday. What we need to do is use the leverage we've got already in our bid. Baron de Coubertin who began the Modern Olympic Movement in 1896 wanted Chicago to host the games. He was impressed with our city, after attending the 1892 World's Fair. We should have had the games in 1904 but gave them to St. Louis with barely a fight. And this time around we gave them to Brazil with our pathetic pitch to the IOC on legacy for the youth of the city.

What failed our city was the final marketing strategy. We focused on what would happen after the Games came to Chicago rather than what the Games would do for the athletes and the Movement itself. Yes our President and First Lady were there. Impressive. But so was every other dignitary. Watching the presentation I knew we had lost. There was no passion. There was rhetoric. It was as though these people had championed the cause for so long they'd lost site of the prize itself.

I sit here tonight wondering if all the death and violence amongst the youth of Chicago was the reason we pitched the Games as a way to galvanize Chicago's youth to focus on sport. We don't need the Games to do that. We need communities to do that. We need parents to step up. We need people to support the charities that exist, like Here's Life Inner City. We need kids to realize that by extinguishing the flame of someone else's future they are burning their own to the ground.  That the burned out shell that is left behind will remain inside them until they take control and turn their lives down a path that builds up rather than breaks down.

Sports will continue in Chicago. Baseball, well, we'll wait till next year to see how that goes on any side of town. Football, doing well so far this year (not the same can be said about the teams down here). Basketball, too early to tell. The Chicago Marathon is next weekend. I think this one will finally be in perfect runner weather. I'll be bundled up though. 

I'm excited to head back to Chi-town. It's been a long time and the last was a quick swing into town to get allergy shots. I have a lot of friends there, many of whom call me on a weekly basis or I call them. Some I don't think realize I've moved away, like life is moving on as it always did for them. Hopefully we can all take the time and support each other. 

I love cheering the runners on in the marathon. It is a worthy goal to run a race that killed the first person who did it. None the less, I will be there as I have at nearly every marathon the last 8 years, ringing my cowbell and yelling for people whose names are on their shirts. I stop at around 5 different places around the route each time. 

Who are you cheering on this week? Who do you support and do they know it? Or are you just standing on the side lines? Life is worth living, sure, but it is so much more fun when you live it weaved into the tapestry of the people around you. Give someone a high five. Give 'em a ring. Heck, wave that cowbell and yell for all you are worth. Be a buddy. 

Sweet dreams.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Pleasant Day overall

Another big day in Teacherland yesterday. I had my pre-evaluation meeting with the Principal and it was also Parent Open House. I wasn't nervous about either per say, but both events definitely occupied a good part of my thinking for the last several days.

I began my day arriving early to make copies (which seems to be my morning ritual). I have one student out all next week and few other students missing class so I wanted to get ahead on the copying. Students who are in the halls without passes or late to class get assigned to detentions. It happens for other reasons to but one way of dealing with detentions is assigning kids to DRA, Deans Restricted Assignment. I have had at least 1 student in there every day. I'm finding that fairly frustrating because it is often the students who can't afford to miss a class that are in there and also the ones who don't ask for what they missed. So there I was back in the copy room trying to get things ready to send to them in the DRA room.

At 7:30 I had a student come in to make up a quiz for Law class. I haven't graded her quiz yet but she's one of my better students and also one who has missed a week+ of class due to illness. 

Classes yesterday went fairly well, being a Thursday and a long one. Coop worked on review sheets for their business writing skills test tomorrow. Law wrapped up their crime unit (let's just say there are a TON of questions this class asks that I don't know). They will be starting their review today and quiz will be Tuesday. I don't like giving exams on Monday so they'll get 2 review days. Hopefully that will help the kids who aren't doing so well.

Midterm grades are due on Monday. I ended my 4th hour class discovering that while the school has fixed a problem I had on the online gradebook regarding how my students were set up in Coop they had somehow taken away all of the grades I had put in for my 4th hour class and my single student in 2nd hour who is now considered a 2nd year Coop student since she took it last year. (Long story. I'll elaborate another time.) Of course, this all went down as I finalized preparation for my pre-evaluation meeting. 

With grades due monday, I'm fairly concerned. The associate principal told me it will be fixed, not to worry. He's a very reassuring guy but with no written back up (I will starting today!) I am worried! There is hope though. The averages are still there for each assignment which means a way must be possible. I'm getting a visit from our tech guy during my study hall 1st hour.

The pre-eval meanwhile went well. We talked for a full hour. She liked some of the creative things I have been doing. She liked the research I've done to make those new assignments. She also was pleased that I was changing the course so much so that assessment didn't mean multiple choice tests! She said when I have my evaluation next Wednesday it is possible that I will get a few exceptional but no new teacher has ever gotten an overall exceptional. I like challenges and often try to conquer them. I'd love to get them but also don't want to overdo myself. Perhaps for the mid-year eval!

Parent Open House went well too. I ran home for a brief time to eat dinner. I came back at at 6 was ready for parents. I shared a room with a fellow new teacher in my department. (Since I have 4 classes in a row, each in a different classroom, I think some parents had trouble finding me since I wasn't in a room I normally teach in). I did have 4 parents come see me. The first was for a coop student who wasn't doing well. The other 3 were for law students, 2 of whom were doing well and one who was not but whose grade was considered "good news." Wow. There were 7 of us who went to Applebee's afterwards - almost exclusively from the Math & Business departments but one of the football coaches came too. We indulged in appetizers and beverages and then went home by 9:30, exhausted.

I'm looking forward to tonight's football game. I hope we win. I'll settle for a close game. Even crossing the 50 yard line a few times. My new friend from Pakistan is coming which I'm excited about! Let's hope it doesn't rain.

It's been a long note, but a good one to write down for posterity. Have a great friday everyone. 


Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Friendship...

....Everywhere I go...

Corny but true. The newbies have become a fixture at Applebee's as of late. We had a fantastic time there last night. What started out as a pair became a quartet and folks, the laughter was constant! Food was great, our server must have thought we were nutty but when we said we'd come back tonight to, she told us this was always her section and that she'd be looking for us!

What's great about our newbie group is that we are diverse in age, background, race and teaching discipline but when it comes down to it, we all have similar personalities but different strengths and it's been awesome to just bond so quickly. I'm lucky.

On the other side of my life, the non-work side is the apartment complex. This week is Resident Appreciation week. Now, they had these in Chicago but were single day affairs. This one is a whole week! On Monday they set up a station so that as you exited the complex it was like going through a drive-through/tailgate tent. We were given muffins and a choice of juice on our way to work. I'm guessing they were out there for a while. I left at 7am and I'm sure there are folks that don't leave till 9am. Tuesday was free lunch. Yesterday was a free newspaper and something else. Tomorrow is garbage pick up. WOW! 

Tonight was happy hour on the pool deck. There were about 25-30 people out during the evening. One was my new friend, Afifa, who I haven't seen in weeks. It is Ramadan so she has been fasting and also starting school. She was so happy to see me and I her. I've been wondering how she was doing, coming to America and knowing no one and having a brand new husband who works a lot of nights. Her in-laws were in Champaign from Pakistan. What a cute couple and very personable. We took a bunch of pictures. Hopefully I can post them soon. I'm sure we'll do something together eventually. 

I've got about an hour and 1/2 to spend until I meet up the newbie club at Applebee's again. I have no "homework" tonight. All the grading is done. Test being given tomorrow for Law and my Coop kids are writing their resumes, which I won't get until Monday. Easy weekend - just prepping my plans!

In other news, I'm getting over my first sinus infection of the fall and hopefully the last. I did glean some important information from the doctor today who told me that mold counts increase by a lot during harvest time, which is just a few weeks away. I've never dealt with harvest time but I'm excited to see how my body handles the challenge.

ALSO...the book I've been waiting nearly 2 years to be released comes out next Tuesday. If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, I highly recommend it. The book about to be released is the 7th in the series. I found out about it from a coworker at Barnes & Noble a few years ago and was hooked almost instantly. Every person I've told about the book since then has also been hooked, at least on the first book. I can't wait to have something to read for pleasure. 

And, I'm collecting change for Lyrics For Life, a charity that raises awareness and funds for childhood cancer. If you'd like to donate anything please send me an email. Or check out this video from founder, Ken Block.

Well, I'm gonna veg on the couch for a bit. I'm loving life right now. I haven't said that wholeheartedly since my last real paycheck in 2007. Money may not buy happiness but it does provide assurance. Love you all!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lessons and Football

I sit here on the couch tonight with the Bears/Packers game about to start. But the lessons have all been planned, despite having the premier of my annual fall sinus infection. I've got some spicy Chinese food on a plate on my lap hoping to burn the infection out of my head. And everything on the tv guide points to the fact that there is nothing else on tv except this game. Okay, Return of the King is on, but I watched part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy yesterday while on the couch trying to recuperate. The fact is I've never really been into football. There are so few games in the season and most of those, at least in Chicago, are played in inclement conditions so I've never really fallen in love with the Bears, or football for that matter.  

Yet now I am in Champaign. A new friend is our high school football coach. U of IL football has been the top news story since I moved down here, except for the week when Extreme Makeover Home Edition was here. And now everyone I know on Facebook that lives in Chicago is either watching the Bears game or at U2's kickoff tour in Soldier Field, home of the Bears.

So I sit here tonight, lesson planning done for the week and am watching football. I know the game well enough. I admit I won't be able to tell you what happened when flags are thrown. I DO know Bears legend Dick Butkis went to U of IL.  Shoot, I CAN tell you it's Faith Hill singing the NFL NBC theme song. And it's nice to see Bob Costas on tv again, who I love during Olympic "season." So here I go, hoping to get a little excited about this tough sport. It's 79 degrees in Green Bay, WI. The lights are on the field. The sun has set here in C-U. And people all over the bi-state area are tuned into the tv just like me.

So Bear Down Chicago. Let's hope the Bears win. Happy middle of September everyone!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Newbies Unite

My 3rd week of teaching has begun with a New Teacher meeting at 7:25 this morning. We've become a tight-knit group, us newbies, and I think overall we've all had a smooth first few weeks on the job. We've been at the football games (home and away) to cheer on our students. Some have offered extra credit if they come out and support the team. I am fairly certain we'll be doing something again this Friday too. Those on 5th period lunch have begun smoothie Friday, although that's more Coach's doing than the rest of us. A few of us even had what we now call "Lunch" after work on Friday to de-stress and discuss our frustrations and joys of our new workplace and "clients."

And I really can't believe I'm going to say this, and may look back at this by December and say, "what the heck!" but I truly feel like I'm doing well. Sure, I spend a good part of my weekend putting PowerPoints together and putting together lesson plans for my binder so that when I'm evaluated they're all in one spot, nicely typed up. But I've been able to stay busy (Italian class, DAR searching, trying to locate stuff for dual citizenship, you know, the usual) and still get everything done and feel like my students are learning what they should be.

I've had some successes this week. I'm planning a Mock Interview Day on October 2nd and already have 2 community employers who are willing to come interview students for me. One is the local Ann Taylor LOFT manager who I met shopping yesterday and the other is an HR director at a local hospital that I talked to today. Now I just need about 10-12 more people! At this rate I could have them set in 12 days!

I've also had students put some serious thought into their long-term career plans. I created a plan document based on other's I'd seen. I took my Coop students to the library to look at the career books and pull information on salary, outlook in the job market, skills needed, education needed and THEN they plotted out what steps they need to do over the next 2 years, 2-7 years and 8-12 years. Most did a great job. Some didn't try. 1-2 students really have no idea what they want to do and so haven't done anything. Which is too bad, because instead of investigating one of their possibilities they just shut down and get a zero. I've got to figure out how to get through to those kids. But I had one kid completely go from one career to another and is dedicated right now. A few want to find new jobs to fit their career plans. Great!

My business law class just took their first quiz. They earned mostly A's and B's with a few really bad scores. I'll give them a few more days to see if they turn in the next few assignments. If not, we'll have a little chat and explain the importance of doing work and succeeding.

Speaking of, I thought Obama's speech did just that today. I read the text before I went to work this morning. It was very inspirational. In fact, if I was in late elementary school or middle school and heard that speech I would have been fired up! (a reference to yesterday's speech he gave in Ohio).  Some of the older kids too, perhaps. When you tell kids that Michael Jordan was cut from basketball in high school and even as a professional lost hundreds of game and missed hundreds of makes them stop and think. This amazing athlete did some stuff wrong but the point was he tried. Success is full of curvy letters for a reason. There are few straight lines that lead to it. It's a lot of curve balls, winding roads and ups and downs before you get there. 

I've always loved the line in National Treasure that discusses Thomas Edison. The dialogue talks about how Thomas Edison tried and failed a hundreds ways to make a light bulb. But it only took one of those tries to be a success. I'm sure Mr. Edison slapped the table a few times. He probably shattered several pieces of glass. He was probably in a glum mood on days before or after a failed experiment. We've all been there. Even on the days you think it's going to go right, the bubble can burst and you feel like you are taking a few steps back.

But with all that effort comes knowledge on what not to do. That's where success plants roots and begins to sprout. That's exactly what I'm doing with my students. I haven't had a day yet where I slammed the car door or yelled at the top of my lungs in the weed-choked field behind my home. But they will come. And I'll be stronger for it.

And I'm not alone in it either. There is the Newbie group. We're in this together in a way.

It reminds me of a great verse. "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." - (The Message) Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians, 10:13


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Funny Thing About Being Ms. B...

I was told something funny today and thought it would be perfect fodder to write about to recap my week. It's been a great week. I had the whole week planned out as of last weekend. With the exception of finding transparency sheets and making copies, it's gone smoothly. Students have slowly gotten into a routine. School spirit has been a big push, more for the faculty than the students but we've all been voting for Urbana for the rivalry week school spirit poll online. The only big thing I can't check off my to-do list is find jobs for the final 6 students in my Coop class that do not have them. 

I've been out and about in the community on a number of different days in the last week. I'm hoping to create a binder full of applications that kids can come and pick up should they lose their job or want a different job. I've also begun an Area Employer Database, something that did not exist prior to my arrival. When students come see me they can look through either binder and get information to tackle their job search.

It's taken several forms of action to get my remaining students into my office. The first attempt was to tell them during class to see me when they are done with classes (they get out early in order to get to work). One came. Many did not. Attempt #2 was to create a sign-up sheet for Tues/Wed for students to come to the office. They all signed up but only 2 came that signed up. I can see who is trying and who isn't at this point. My final attempt was today. I told them in class that if you don't have a job today is a must or you will be booted out of the program. Two of my final 3 holdouts came today and I was able to give them some info and a plan of attack. Let's hope they do it.

What's so funny you may be asking? Well, the funny part about this whole process was pointed out today by my department chair. To paint the picture, Our business dept. office is tucked away inside one of the classrooms. I've been sticking close to my desk after teaching my 4 classes in a row to accommodate students who should be stopping by. Since the students all call me "Ms. B" they come into the classroom and start out saying something like, "Umm, is Mrs. Ba...." They don't know how to say my full name despite my going over how to say it. They also say Misses, to which someone in the office said, "Well, she's not married as far as I know but if you are looking for Ms. Bartholomew she's back there..." Perhaps you don't find it as funny as I do but I think it's hilarious. 

Anyway, Mrs. Ba....or Bart....or whatever is going to edit a test now. Maybe for Coop I'll ask them the question: what is my full name? 2 points extra credit if it's spelled correctly. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning Italian isn't always easy

For the last 3 years I've been learning Italiano on my own. I was thrilled when I first started, prior to my big European whirlwind trip in 2007, because I was understanding the language. Even most verb conjugations made sense. I could count to a million. And while I was in Europe I was able to ask where things were and how much they cost and barter with a street vendor on cost. 

But now I'm taking my first actual Italian class at Parkland. I figured it would not only be a good stress reliever but a good practice before trying to take Italian language courses in Italy next summer. 

I was right.

The last 2 weeks have been pretty easy. I have trouble understanding my teachers directions from time to time (he speaks fast and occasionally throws spanish in the mix since he also teaches spanish). But tonight I learned that I've been saying certain #'s incorrectly! Any number with an 8 in it, after 38 I've said wrong. So 48, 58, 98, etc. All incorrect.  My prof said that since its said fairly quickly, it probably wasn't an issue when I said it while in Italy last time. But writing it is a different story. Already I've learned something!

And you know all those gangster movies or times when people sort of mock the italian speech pattern? Well they're correct! You emphasize the 2nd to last syllable. PIzzaRIa (up down up down). Buon GIORno. Sometimes when we are all speaking in class I feel like we're imitating bad imitations of Italians but really, its the correct pronunciation and syllabic emphasis just on super slow speed. It's crazy.

So there's my Italian update. I thought I'd throw you all something that wasn't exactly teaching related. And now that the Cubs have lost to the Astros I shall go to bed. How saw that this both sider loves 2 Chicago teams and neither one of them can seem to win a game when I watch them. I think it's time for football season....

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Urbana Experience: Week 1

Well, week 1 is technically in the books. Friday was a good day at school. Even in 24 hours I've begun to learn my student's personalities although names will take a bit longer. 

I've got 1 student who has not yet turned up in Study Hall 1st period so we'll see what happens with him. 

My Coop 1 class grew by 3 more students on Friday which means I have exactly enough textbooks for my class of 24 students.

My law class was given their 1st assignment on Friday. It's something called a Justice Journal which will be due every monday. Basically they find an article or news story regarding legal issues and write 10-15 sentences about it. I gave them a list of websites and newspapers or magazines that would be acceptable. I was one of the few teachers that gave homework but I don't mind. It's LAW! From what I know of law school....15 sentences is nothing.

My Coop 3 class has a fantastic discussion during class on Friday. I explained that I really want them to embrace this class and their work opportunities as training for their future. They are all nearing graduation (all 7 of them) and understand that "future" means "very soon." I led a discussion about why we work and they argued points back and forth with each other with very little input from me. It's exactly what I was hoping for. At first they could only see the MONEY reason for working. But one of them brought up Obama and how he doesn't get paid much but loves what he does. So PASSION became the new topic. It fed into my discussion on how people view work around IL, the USA and internationally which ended up with a variety of reasons why we work. Let's hope my huge Coop 1 class can do something similar on Monday.

Friday also marked the 1st football game of the year. I saw several staff members at the game but very few parents and student fans, aside from those in football at the lower levels that weren't playing.  We played one of the top teams in the state and didn't win. But hey, we (and by we I mean our varsity football team) went out on the field facing a team that lined up with twice as many players and took nearly the full endzone to display their roster and did our best. Apparently the team scored the most points against this particular team in recent history. This town has little support for this team and I hope that can be changed with the new attitude and new coach (who was hired for that specific purpose). The team looked good and the coaching staff was definitely fired up with each score. 

Tomorrow is textbook assignment day. I went in today and with Tilia's help moved my textbooks into my respective classrooms. Tilia & I also met to discuss immediate fundraising for our Freshman class. We have a lot to do before Homecoming in October. If our plans fall into place we're going to bring a LOT more school spirit to the school, starting with the class of 2013. Thankfully our colors are the same as U of I. I'm in need of more orange to wear...

My parting thought for tonight is just a mention of what Maria Shriver said this morning on Meet the Press. She said her Uncle Teddy was the one to make sure everyone felt welcomed, loved and thanked. He was always reaching out to people to share his thoughts. This was probably a result of losing 4 older siblings to war and assassination and holding to the belief that our time is not assured. Her words were so passionate that you could tell she had learned to do the same because of her uncle. So send those thank you notes. Post a message on Facebook. Write a letter. Tell someone something everyday. Stay in touch. Even if it is just a single sentence it will mean the world to that person. 

To each of you - thank you for reading and supporting me. I've probably got a picture of you in my office and you are always in my thoughts. I love ya. Wake up tomorrow and be the change you want to see in the world. What a great reason to get out of bed!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

THE First Day of School

It came and has gone and my first true day of school as a full-time teacher seems to have been a success. Yesterday was technically the first day but was the freshman only. The class of 2013. I tried to help a few of them get around the hallways but truth be told, I was almost as lost as they were. Fortunately, there were plenty of teachers and admins in the hallway to lead the way and I directed several of the young ones their way to point with fingers, pens, pencils and hands full of papers.

I did get to meet the entire class. Ms. Detrick and I as class 2013 co-sponsors gave a brief introduction to the upcoming Homecoming project. We then settled into our impromptu table in the cafeteria to convince the freshman to sign up and assist in the float building, fundraising and general activity involved. Afterall, if they don't start now they will NOT have a very exciting Jr. Prom which they get to organize. Our first group sat in the tables farthest from the clubs and organizations offering information so with the 2nd round, we walked the tables and encouraged about 3 pages of students to sign up. I ducked out early to lead an info session on the student handbook (I was assigned a spot) and Ms. D did a great job acquiring a bunch of willing hands.

Today the entire student body was present, about 1200 students in all. My overall tactic was to discuss the syllabus and then have a game where I could learn a little about my students and they could learn about each other. I brought copies of the Bingo game we used in Hinsdale. It is a blank "board" that students can fill in with topics wherever they liked, creating their own board. I listed several topics on the board such as read a book this summer, saw a movie, has a job, will go to a football game, etc. I gave out Smarties to use as pieces to mark their boards. Overall it went pretty well. It would have gone a lot better if I'd had an overhead or LCD to project my "topics" list. As it was, I used a bunch of time writing things on the board which is not ideal but it worked. 

I have about 25 students in my Coop 1 class, 30 in Business Law and 7 in Coop 2. Quite the disparity but I think in the end it will work. I'll differentiate (an education buzz word) instruction to suit the size of the classes and go from there. It's me and the chalk for a while. Hopefully I at least get an overhead projector for biz law. I've already created a bunch of power points which are fairly useless in my present situation. If you don't know, I'm in 4 different rooms for 4 different classes and on 3 different floors. I think Urbana H.S. is a fantastic place but I am surprised at how lacking in technology the school is compared to the places I've taught. 

It was great to walk out of the building today with the Associate Principal asking how my day went. Hopefully I was tough enough and direct enough to get everyone to follow the rules, do the work and succeed. It was a good first day. I've got some frustrations I need to work out such as the fact that my predecessor left only assessments and textbooks behind with no demonstration of the lessons he did. He did tell me his philosophy was to just "keep the students busy" which I don't agree with. I want them to learn and connect. For now, I am going to assume such frustrations are all "first year teacher" issues and bumps that come with working in a new environment.

I'll trade the business suit for school colors tomorrow (I'm thinking black suit jacket with white t-shirt and orange neck scarf with dark jeans) for school spirit day. We're hoping to have a successful football team this year and I'm aiming to go to the game and support my students and fellow new Urbana teacher, Coach Watson. Go Tigers! It's almost TGIF....


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I even have my own parking spot...

Institute Day 2 has come and gone and I am fully ready for tomorrow's Freshman Orientation. I say "fully ready" because I only have 4 freshman in my Biz Law class. I love the Freshman though and can't wait to represent and get to know these students over the next 4 years as Freshman Class Co-Sponsor through till their Senior year when I'll be _______ Class Co-Sponsor. I think you can figure that one out. See? I'm in teacher mode!

We began our day in meetings at 8am. I arrived and parked Chicago style just as I've done the last year, backing into my parking spot. I noticed yesterday that I actually have my own spot and it is  marked "Reserved for Coop Coordinator." Sweet! I'm probably the only one who felt bad yesterday that I didn't park in it and took a regular spot, preventing someone who wasn't me from getting a spot. But as there is balance in the universe, someone had parked in MY spot so the guilt vanished when I noticed that a bold soul didn't care whose spot it was!

Today's meetings were about professional development, reviewing changes to the faculty/student handbooks and discussing how our school is measuring up to No Child Left Behind and the standards set by our fine government. There were a few giveaways, a massive breakfast of bagels, cream cheese and donuts and then a little bit more talk before we all had times to go our own way and work in our rooms or office. I've not met all the people whose rooms I'll be taking over for a period each day. The science dept. chair seemed a bit nervous that I'd disturb his room. Actually, he was more concerned about my classroom management skills and if my students would disturb his room. I told him it would be a lot of discussion with little reason to move around and it would all be fine. Let's hope I'm right!

I didn't go to lunch, having filled up on breakfast a bit earlier. Seriously, I don't eat donuts as a general rule, but a strawberry donut was too much to resist! Instead, I took the time to investigate the copy room. Once I asked for directions (I was 2 doors off) I made my copies of syllabi and information sheets for Coop. I didn't know how to log off the copier though so I waited for someone to come in and a nice fellow teacher showed me the way. 

Last night I had a large to-do list, mainly tweaking my info sheets and syllabi as well as creating a quick ice breaker bingo game. To finish the list, I had to make copies so I felt pretty set. My desk is nicely organized and all I have left to do for this week is to start brining all my books back to school. Feeling set, I actually left before the rest of my department. This is a major accomplishment for me. While doing marketing, I used to always come in early and stay late or even skip lunch just to make people see that I was working hard. I was working for praise rather than to get the job done and it was making my life so much more stressful than it needed to be. I'm determined not to LOOK like I'm working hard but to demonstrate how my hard work is paying off through results and rapport with my students. I'll put in the requisite hours (and more on occasion) but I'm not going to sit at my desk so people SEE me doing work. It sounds silly but it was an honest to goodness issue I dealt with and was a tough mental issue to shake. 

Two other quick notes before I sign off. I didn't like anything on the radio this morning so I hit the "tape" button in my car. Yes, it's 11 years old and has a tape player. The follow up answer to the question you are currently thinking is yes, I still own cassette tapes. The one in the player, which I had no idea what it may be was REO Speedwagon. REO, of course, is from Champaign and was started by two U of I engineering students. The song that played was "Only the Strong Survive." Apropos, no?
   Main street in Champaign is dedicated to the band. 

The other note is regarding my personal training sessions. Last week I tried the squat machine for the 1st time. I nearly passed out. I don't think I was breathing and I think I had too much of my energy/weight pushing against the bar on my shoulders which means I wasn't lifting correctly. Today I got through both sets with no problems aside from really not doing the breathing well. Major accomplishment for me! I did have "Only the Strong Survive" in my head so maybe...

I can't wait to share with you all about Freshman day tomorrow and the full school of students on Thursday/Friday. Go Tigers. I'm definitely going to earn my stripes. 

1st Day of School: Institute

It's finally here: the first day of school. To be precise, it is institute day yesterday and today but technically the school year has begun. And what a day it was.

Our morning started off at the middle school in the cafetorium (never heard of such a thing until I moved here). It is a combination cafeteria/gym/stage area. It was then off to the Gymnasium where we packed into bleachers and chairs. A bunch of us new teachers sat on the north side of the gym in the center on the bleachers. For a while no one sat near us as though so obvious we were the newbies. We laughed and watched the hundreds of teachers in the district file into the gym. Just after 8am the marching band kicked off playing the National Anthem which always gets me when I hear it. Knowing that my ancestor came over as an indentured servant and wanted so much to fight in the Revolution makes the flag a great symbol of his efforts and dedication to his adopted country. He was still living in NY during the War of 1812 when the Anthem was penned. That's what I think about each time I hear that song. 
After that we heard from the H.S. Orchestra and the Choir which sang a song called Grateful where students added in thanks to some of their favorite teachers. Cute. 

Our Superintendent made a few remarks shortly after 8:30. He sounds like a midwest version of James Earl Jones. He is a man dedicated to education and his booming voice just makes you listen. We also heard from our Board of Ed President who talked about community spirit and the fact that AYP scores don't measure all we do. The mayor of Urbana and the Union president also spoke.

After that, pins were handed out to teachers for years of service (5 yrs through 35 yrs). Our Assistant Superintendent spoke about the history of the Urbana school district from a 1-room school all the way till our current district status. He mentioned that in 2004 the goal was 40% of students making AYP. 4 schools did not make it. In 2009 it was 70 % and 4 schools did not make it despite enormous progress. This year it is 77%. The Superintendent got up again and talked about being Together For Our Kids. Another great speech.

The new teachers were then asked to stand and line up along one wall of the gym. The rest of the gathered then were to walk the line and shake our hands. Slightly embarrassing but nice idea. Most people just tried to cut through our line towards the doors. Oh well. I went to lunch with my department and some of the PE folks to Dos Reales, the local "primo" Mexican restaurant. It was pretty good, but no Hacienda.

After lunch we split up by schools, had a brief meeting then were off to Department staff meetings. We talked about budget and funding and our need to resolve a few room issues, including mine. I'm in 4 rooms for my 4 classes on 3 different floors. Passing periods are 4 minutes. You do the math.

It was a great day. I learned a lot, especially how much of a family these folks are to each other and strive to stay that way. It seems to be all about the students. I hope that's the way it remains and the experience I have in the coming months. I'm not very nervous. I can't imagine doing this at 21. I'm fortunate to have nearly 12 years of work under my belt and time to learn about my personality, character and reaction strategies. 

It's time I head off to school now. Have a great day everyone. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Extreme Makeover Home Edition: C-U/Philo Edition

I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but the ABC show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, has been in Philo, IL since last Tuesday, a town about 9 miles south of Urbana. Since Tuesday, it has been the top story on every news broadcast. In fact, it has been only 1 of 3 stories on each newscast I've seen over the last 3 weeks. Along with the Makeover, Illini football bootcamp and move-in weekend are the two other stories I've seen. Although, they did do a profile on the guy who sells pictures during move-in weekend, so if you count him, that would be 4 stories but to me that coincides with move-in weekend and so I say it's three.

Anyway, I went church shopping again today and chose Stone Creek Church as my destination. It is a very diverse cultural church located on the south end of Urbana with 4 services, one of which is in French, a large parking lot and a new building. It seemed the most comparable to Park in the sense of size, which is one thing I've been struggling to find. It turns out that Stone Creek is the home church to the Montgomery family, the ones receiving the new Makeover home! 

So after the service, which was great and about financing/budgeting (perfect in lieu of the lesson being learned and witnessed by the Montgomery's calling to serve the community) I decided that since I was already on the south side of Urbana, I may as well drive the 9 miles further south and see what I could find in Philo. 

Now, to be clear, I really, really love watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition. It's a relief to have something positive on TV. Something that is really focused on doing good for others rather than some self-serving realty show or sitcom character. I think it's similar to the Christian artists I worked with who go out on tour preaching the gospel through music on the road for weeks at a time. It's not a glamourous job and it can be very tiring. The Makeover crew does the same thing and probably spend more hours working than the musicians do!

I parked my car in quaint, downtown Philo and crossed the railroad tracks with a photographer from the News Gazette who was out to the site for his 2nd time. All the local roads leading into the neighborhood were blocked off so we walked about 1/4 mile. My first visual onsite was the Red Cross RV. I think my feet decided before I did, but I signed up to join the bone marrow donor list and then went in and donated a pint of blood. I did really well until about the 18 minute mark, just as they were finished. I got a bit lightheaded and laid down for about 5 minutes before grabbing a bottle of water and a bag of Nutter Butters. 

There is a baseball field across from the house and what looked like a large shed. The new house is gorgeous from the front (the only angle I had). A big maroon-red fire truck was outside, probably in place to water the landscaping which was being done. It was a brown and light blue-green color with white trim. Blue shirted folks were all over the place working outside and I had glimpses of them inside. My guess is the Makeover crew was inside working on their designated rooms. I didn't see anyone famous, although I wouldn't have minded catching a glimpse of Ty Pennington (yes, I think he's sexy to answer the question you are thinking).

All in all, I had a great little adventure this morning. I may never live near or see the Makeover crew again and I'm glad I detoured. The farm country down here is beautiful, especially under a blue sky pocked with big, white, fluffy clouds. The big "reveal" is set for Tuesday between 1-3. I'll be in school meetings so there is no chance to yell "Move That Bus!" That's okay though. I'm sure it will be on the news again on Tuesday night along with more news on football!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wake, Eat, Learn, Eat, Learn, Earn, Eat, Sleep & Repeat...

The last 2 days have been comprised of CRISS training, a great strategy that, for me at least, reminds teachers of the best strategies to use in the classroom to pre-teach, post-teach and use during instruction. There were a lot of great reminders. And I got to bond a bunch more with my fellow new high school teachers. 

I get the feeling were are seen as the "noisier" group of all the teachers at the training. We all felt it was geared a bit more towards the younger grades, despite originally being created for the high school level. Yet the biggest obstacle for us was that none of us teach traditional subjects that use all of these strategies on a regular basis. Between Health, Coop, Special Ed and Math, most of these strategies were a bit too elementary. I'm not saying I wasn't glad to have participated, but I wish sometimes that such training programs are split a bit further between grade levels to provide more applicable examples to model.

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to dog sit for my all time favorite pooch, a little Shitzu named Bacon. She is adorable, very soft and has the biggest personality of any animal I've ever been around, except Chico, a bird I had for a while in high school. Taking care of Bacon for about 7 hours on my own prepared me for a lot of things for when I get a dog eventually. First off, I can now reasonably guess where the dog will lay down. Both my dog growing up and Bacon liked to lay on the top of couches and in the window to better watch the world outside. Second, they love to explore. Bacon wandered the house a few times before settling down in her perches. She also loved to play with her little bumble bee chew toy and I've learned that my long hallway is great for a little dog to run and fetch things in, once they've learned not to slip on the tile near the door! 

It was also nice to take a walk around my community with a purpose, other than getting out of the house. I even met and had a conversation with my first friendly neighbor, a woman in her 20's who moved here from Pakistan. We are both somewhat lonely and I'm excited to get to know her better. We walked for about 30 minutes and it wouldn't have happened had I not had Bacon for those few hours.

I've spent most of my afternoon today going back through paperwork for classes which start next week. I'm really excited to begin and just hope I do a great job and see the impact I make on my students. There is nothing better than that. Heck, I have plenty of things to offer them besides having knowledge about business and the real world. I'm a great writer, know a TON about history and I'm sure can be a great recommendation for some of them someday. I'd probably offer to be available in my room for questions, but since I'm in 4 different classrooms and my office is located INSIDE a classroom, that doesn't seem as likely as I'd imagined. Time will tell.

Have a great night everyone. Thanks for reading. I'm gonna go take another little walk in this October-like fall weather. Global warming? Nope, not in the midwest.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Orientation: Day 2

One thing I've been thankful for the last 24 hours is contact with other people new to the C-U area. I've been down here for 3 weeks and have either wandered around on my own or sat at home watching ballgames, CNN, Food Network or new episodes of Psych while working on lesson plans. From what I can tell, I've put a lot more into planning than my counterparts, which hopefully will make being a new teacher a bit easier!

Today we spent a few hours learning about pathogens. We learned about ordering supplies. Around mid-morning we all met up with our new teacher mentors and for those of us at the high school, had a chance to walk the building and get our first true introduction to our 2nd home for the next school year. It was then time for lunch back at the Middle School next door. This turned out to be a fantastic salad from Panera and an enormous cookie (which I'm proud to say I didn't finish).

I had about 30 minutes after lunch to work on Coop stuff, so I went up to my office (reference yesterday's message about the office). I am one of those people who prefer to sit and put a solid block of time into something. 30 minutes wouldn't allow me to call too many students and I'd just be getting into it by the time I had to meet downstairs for the "high school" meeting.  Instead, I went through my roster and wrote down phone #'s so that when I come back tomorrow I can dive right into the phone calls. 

The 1:30 meeting went until 4, past the 3:30 schedule but was chock full of good information. Our principal reinforced how great the staff and the school was, a phrase heard often during my two days and since my interview. Thus far I don't doubt it! We learned about hall passes, alarms, homeless/homebound students, parking, clubs & organizations, computers and how to work the grade system, which I've already been doing.

I'm really looking forward to starting classes. I'm also looking forward to getting to know the staff around me better and the students I'll have. What I heard today reinforced that my attitude and approach to teaching is in the right mode and I can not wait to make a difference in their lives.

Years ago, I was told going into the music biz not to expect to make any impact. I believe I did. I was a hard worker who focused on creating lasting, positive relationships with my clients and fellow promoters. I learned to be tough but I also learned that my "be nice" and you'll "get the same" approach to life does really work. I worked in an area of the industry where I know that each event I put on, made a difference in some kid or some person's life. And I know I made a difference in the lives of a few other people too. This time, I've got a job where I know there is nothing to do but to make a difference and help someone grow both in skills and emotions and in progression towards the real world from school life. We'll see how it all unfolds right here...

Monday, August 17, 2009

The School Year Begins! Final Chicago Fling

It has been a busy few days in KBland. I consider last Thursday my first official day at work. I met with my Dept. Chair and three coworkers to set up our office. For a visual, picture a hallway with about 10 classrooms on the 3rd floor of a school. Now turn right into one of those classrooms and pass the teacher's desk. No, it's not a full wall - there is a door there. Walk through that door and you find our office. It is tucked away behind this classroom in a very peculiar setting. My desk is to the left just as you walk in the little room. I face away from the door. Looking ahead I see not only file cabinets but look just a bit more to your right and there is a window and 2 other desks. I'm currently picking out photos to put up on my desk and bulletin board and am taking any submissions you may have! 

At any rate, we have the office completely set up and my files are fairly in order, although I've noticed there is not a single file from my Coop II class and plenty for Coop I and Business Law. Not to worry!

My Dept. Chair kindly followed me to my home and then drove me to the local amtrak/mass transit hub in C-U so I can catch the Megabus. It was my first foray into this particular brand of transport. Not a bad trip although I couldn't imagine taking the bus from Memphis, where it originated, all the way to Chicago. It was packed when I climbed aboard. I suppose if you are going to only spend $10 to get to Chicago it would be worth the time on the bus. As for me it did the job. It reminded me of the coach tour in Europe - not quite as nice or stylish, but still a similar ride. As it happens, I brought along my notes from that particular trip to keep writing my travel book. So up to Chicago and back to Champaign I wrote about the days we spent in Germany. 

I spent my morning on Friday at NWestern getting what will be among my last allergy/immunotherapy shots in Chicago. It was a bit of a process, but I'm willing to donate as much time as the folks working in that office need - their serum has been a lifesaver and given me my healthiest summer in years. Take that dust, grass & trees. (Let's hope ragweed takes the punch too, now that it is sprouting). 

Sarah and I spent lunch along the lake near Huron and inner Lake Shore. We watched a few planes overhead practicing for the Air Show, probably one of my 3 favorite times in Chicago (the others being Marathon weekend and Christmastime when the city is alight). We talked of the future, gave advice and provided encouragement over lunch. 

Friday afternoon Mom and I got pedicures, something she really want to do and I of course am not going to say no. Despite injuring my toe a year ago, I still have no toenail but I must say the nail salon on Southport & Diversey does an amazing job! You would never know there was no nail on my toe - it looks awesome!

Mom, Dad and I tried a new restaurant in the city on Friday night. Trattoria Caterina on Dearborn just south of Harrison. Amazing food. Quaint. Very well priced and a BYO to boot. Definitely try it before summer is out!

Saturday was the Air Show. It was very hot and I had a great time watching the planes. I am a total plane nerd. I'm going to claim it comes from being the first generation in my family since the Revolution not touched by the military in any way. Mom, Dad and I started out watching. Ginger joined in later and we had a great time catching up. 

Saturday evening was spent at Summerdance in Grant Park. The Flat Cats were playing, perhaps Chicago's best swing band. It was still hot and I think I got a good solid 2 hours of dancing in. Kim, Melanie, Paul, Matt and I all danced like crazy. Matt even invented a new move, the Swinging Matty. 

I left Sunday morning for Champaign and got up early this morning for the first of my many meetings for New Teachers. There are about 45 new teachers in the district. It was a great day, packed full of information, much of which I'm still processing. I went up to my office after Day 1 of Orientation and called about 15 of my students to assess whether or not they have jobs. It seems they are doing pretty good there, although a few will need some help in finding a good fit. They seem up for being proactive, which is a great first lesson. 

I'll leave you with a few photos from the weekend, since I haven't posted any in a while! Till the next edition, KB