Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The so-called 2nd worst week of the school year

At least that is what some of my colleagues are calling this. It is PSAE time. For those of you who grew up in Illinois that means state testing. In our state, it is Prairie State Achievement Exams which now also mean taking the ACT as a built in component.

The last two years as a sub, I proctored the PSAE to kids with learning disabilities. I read the test and sat in a room, one on one, with students for 3 days. A lot of that time it was agony, watching the choices some of these students made while desperately willing them to fill in a different bubble on the test scantron sheet. You have to work really hard not to read the test answer selections so that you emphasize the correct choice. And when my student would ask questions, as a teacher, it was hard not to try and help them reason out the answer. I wanted to make it a teachable moment right then and there. But I couldn't. This year I get a break from PSAE.

I don't really think that having 1/2 my students out of the classroom will make this a bad week. The tough part for me will be the lack of access to my office on the 3rd floor. On testing days, the entire 3rd floor is blocked off. So to be extra prepared, I stayed late at school today to get my grades submitted (grades are due by midnight tonight) and made sure I had every textbook, test, review guide and DVD I could possibly need the next few days, not to mention my Italian language book that I've been lugging around in an attempt to brush up on my skills now that my trip is all systems go. My huge teacher bag weighs probably 15 lbs.

(To paint the big picture, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home so when I got to my front door I had what my students refer to as my "diaper bag" plus 3 bags of groceries, a purse and a stuffed, accordion file containing all my handouts and to-be-graded papers.)

Another downside to this week is that my students are really getting a handle on their final projects in Coop yet they can't work on it during testing. Each day more and more of them say "I can really use this someday, huh?" which makes me respond with "Yes!!" Both the computer lab and the library are on the 3rd floor so I'm resorting to a review guide and quiz the next few days covering our last unit, "Living On Your Own." They aren't going to like it. Oh well. Hopefully I can show a little video on Thursday. The quiz is just 32 questions.

I also had a 15 minute hallway meeting with a counselor today. Essentially, my one student who has been to my class just 4 times since January (2 this week alone) needs to pass. She has the potential to get 3 credits from my classes and needs 4 to graduate. So what has the principal said? She needs to pass both of my classes. Personally, if you don't show up to school and your absences are unexcused, you don't deserve to make up the work. It was a personal choice. This student says she wants to be there. Well, BE THERE! If you can't summon the desire and will power to face high school then how do you expect to wake up and go to a job the rest of your life? Anyway, this student and I spoke today and I showed her exactly what she needs to *hopefully* pass my 2 classes. At least she has great ideas for her project and has really been working hard on it the last 2 days. If only she could be this dedicated all school year. She has great potential.

I'm beginning to ramble now so I'm going to bed. It's long past my school-night bedtime anyway. 42 days till summer break. Hopefully the pollen season will have tapered off by then and I can spend some time outdoors. While I visited a few students at work earlier today I found this great bench rocker that would be lovely on my back patio . Dreams...


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The End is Near

WE had our department meeting today and as I've discovered, this time of year teachers are concerned with one topic at every meeting: How many school days are left? 

I have found that most count the school days. We're at 31 contact days, 32 total school days remaining. I'd rather count down the total DAYS until we are done, weekends and all. Its a more realistic picture, and as much as I am a dreamer, I am also the one who has to sit in the window seat on the plane so I can see our progress and tend to like being the driver so I can control how long it takes to get there. I want reality, not just hope.

It is with this in mind, as my seniors have verbally told me that they are through taking notes and caring about school that I announced that this is the last week of taking notes. (In my class of 10, 3 have stopped coming). REALLY? one of my students asked today when I made the annoucement. In their minds, May 25, last day for Seniors, is a long, long time away. They are all thinking of Prom on May 1st, which also seems like a long, long way away. In a way, the joke is on them. Because along with the ending of notes, comes their biggest challenge. Serious, dedicated, individual research and work.

I have created a final project for my students. Three of them, actually. They have a choice (choice is big in education today, its what the big guys call individualized instruction) of 3 options for their project. I've given them kitschy names in the hopes to real them in. But the true hook is the fact that if done correctly and with serious intent, each project could really help these kids down the road.

The first option is called "Moving Out - Independence." Students are going to research apartments, insurance, cars, furniture - the works. In 3 weeks they will present their findings and tell me how this project will help them once they get that graduation certificate. 

I know this has a possibility of success because one of my students is already asking me questions. This girl is not my brightest, but she comes to class and pays attention and does try. And unlike many of the students, actually asks what she misses when she is gone and what she needs to make up. In short, she has initiative. Well, yesterday this student informed me that she has been threatened by her landlord to be evicted. She moved in last month and has had some issues that were partially out of her control. We sat yesterday looking at her lease agreement during study hall. We also called the Federal Housing hotline to determine what her rights were (Not very helpful, but they did confirm the little I do know about housing law). As we went through everything, she took notes, so that she could know what to look for when she does her final project. Today was the last day before her landlord took action. We talked for a few minutes and then she called, using my advice on how to handle the situation. It was just another sign that my students trust me and are listening. GREAT!! I really needed this, considering I've had very little sleep the last few days due to the record pollen counts here.

My other 2 options should also prove to be helpful to my students. Option 2 is called Mission: Career Goals. In this one they explore how they get from where they are now as a high schooler and part-time worker to their ultimate dream job. I figured this would be good for some of my 2 sophomores and handful of juniors who are not quite at the moving out stage. They'll have to do some interviews of people in jobs they want among other research and a presentation, which may either solidify their desired job choice or make a change.  Option 3 is called Entrepreneur Extrodinaire. In this one, I gave a way for my students who want to start their own business to develop their plan of action. Again, a few interviews of other entrepreneurs and a bunch of research, but I know of at least 1 student who will probably pick this one.

So as I completed my last powerpoint for the year (I hope), I am sending good vibes for these projects. This is going to be really tough for these kids. I don't think they realize how spoon-fed they are here. We go easy on the amount of homework. We give them guided sheets to take notes on, otherwise they won't take them. We make quizzes a bit easier. This project is going to be all them. I've taught them all of the tools this year. Now they've got to put it together and show me how they will be real citizens in the world. I'm remaining optimistic!

In other news, the Mayor of Champaign has been taped stating that Obama is not an American since he won't show is birth certificate to the world. Ebertfest is underway. My allergy nurse is on the news just about every morning giving advice about "the worst pollen season." And in case you didn't know it, our Illinois State Representatives and Senators who are being pressured to pass a balanced budget for our sinking state are out playing an annual softball game. Only in America...


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Historical Perspectives on Dating

A few folks whose opinions I cherish have asked me to be a more regular blogger. In that vein, I'm going to expand the things I write about. I won't abandon all aspects of my teacher-life here in Urbana, but rather give a broader glimpse into the things I am thinking about and learning. Because, after all, I am a lifelong learner and crave the little nooks and crannies that make life interesting!

Spring Break was a few weeks ago and while away from school I was able to catch up on some television. My favorite show, Psych, is off for the summer so I've been updating the world of the Tudors on Netflix. This might surprise one or two of you, since the show is not necessarily made-for-family viewing. But much like the period dramas that have made their way to cable television, I think it is as realistic a depiction of life in 16th century England as allowed. (Season 4 trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sawkFsNSrAk)

I've always been fascinated with English history. I don't know why. Perhaps the old stories and myths and magic that seems to permeate through the textbooks of my junior high years. I can recall in 6th grade a women, probably slightly older than I am now, coming to speak to our class who studied medieval England. I thought she was so cool! I don't think I ever told anyone that. And to know now, that I am distantly related to a queen of Henry VIII, his most loved 3rd wife, Jane, makes me all the more curious about life then.

As I've watched the show, I've become intrigued by the figure of Mary, Henry's oldest daughter, known to us now as Bloody Mary. She was devoutly Catholic, something remarkable considering her father broke England from the Catholic church and founded Anglicanism. She could not have lived a happy life, being turned against once King Henry VIII divorced her mother, the great daughter of Spain's Isabella & Ferdinand. Following this move, Henry made her illegitimate, demoting her from princess to lady. This followed the birth of a half-sister, Elizabeth, to be revered through the ages as the Great Virgin Queen, born of a woman who tried to have Mary put to death. Mary's father went on to marry 4 more women, two of which helped reconcile the father with daughter, to the extent it was possible.

What makes Mary's story more poignant to me is that here is a girl, whose own father was marrying women younger than she was at a time when women married in their early teens. The threat of being a bastard of a kind prevented her marriage. The fact that she was Catholic caused Henry VIII to avoid marrying her, in case the pro-Catholic factions in turbulent England decided to rise again. And Mary wouldn't think of marrying a Protestant. Yet through all of this, Mary's greatest desire was to have children and be married. When her young brother, Edward VI, was born, Mary was 21. She treated him like the child she was destined to never have.

Yet when little brother, King Edward, died Mary took over the throne, the final gift her father had bestowed onto her should his longed for heir pass away. She married at age 37, well past the age of the women of her time, to her cousin, Philip of Spain. She would die just 5 years later, childless and ill-remembered. Out-shined by half-sister, Elizabeth.

Despite Mary's futile efforts to turn England back into a Catholic nation (Bloody Mary comes from her attempts to destroy the Protestant leaders in England from her father and brother's reigns), her story can lend a bit of hope, if you just look for it. This is a woman who persevered through threats of death, desertion, isolation and separation from family to achieve the marriage of her dreams at age 37 and goal she had always fought for - her rightful place as the eldest child of Henry VIII on the throne of England.

If you can put in perspective that Mary was not the only monarch of the period to put hundreds if not thousands of people to death for their religious beliefs and focus on the humanistic side for a moment, you would see that circumstance created the person she was to become. Elizabeth, too, suffered similar threats and abandonment, but not to the extent of her older sibling, especially because Elizabeth was staunchly Protestant. Mary was there through all 6 of her fathers' wives and was the only member of the family to stay Catholic. I can't imagine what Mary went through but I can learn from her perseverance in holding out for love.

I hope you enjoyed the history lesson. And in case you are curious, Jane Seymour's mother was Margaret Wentworth, a cousin of my ancestor who immigrated to the USA in the 1600's. Who knows what I'll write about next!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Long Time Gone

It's been a long time since I updated my little blog here but I figured it was time! This one may be a bit lengthly. Keep reading though. I have a few success stories to tell you about!

It's been a very blessed day here in C-U. I am finally seeing the fruits of my labor in connecting with students and seeing learning sink in. At least in my Law class. And it all started with a scantron quiz.

Let me first say that yesterday ended on a frustrating note. I am a planner and not a procrastinator, but with spring break and Easter coinciding the last 2 weeks, I'm not as ahead as I would like to be. That means, I am probably ahead on planning than most new teachers but not enough so that I feel wholly comfortable. To paint a picture of my schedule, I teach periods 1 through 4 in an 8 class-period day. I may be the only one who does this at the school but it works well for me. I tend to eat lunch 5th period and then either visit my student worksites during 6th-8th periods or do some grading or lesson planning at my desk. I have 35 students to visit at work (twice a semester) and most of those visits occur between 5-8pm due to student work schedules. Many days I sit working until 3 and then head back out to jobs in the evening. This week alone, I have visited 10 students in 3 days. 

Yesterday, I checked my mailbox and found a letter stating that 2 of my students would be out all next week and they needed the homework and worksheets for the entire week. Being a little behind, I had ideas on what I wanted to teach next week but nothing written, let alone copied for my Coop class. Law, thankfully, is a semester class and I was able to quickly pull those items out from fall semester for one of the students. But Coop, that was another ballgame (my subtle reference to the start of baseball season which is being relived on the news as I type this).

What I had planned to be a 6-7th hour grading session and an 8th hour worksite visit turned into a frantic rush to put worksheets together and copy textbook pages for my Coop student. Her absence occurs in the midst of a unit I am creating about Stereotypes in the workplace and the Changing Role of Women at work. It is given just 3 pages of text in our book. Pretty heavy stuff, since these kids have probably never thought of it and so I have pooled resources from books I read in college and from online. I've got some great ideas including a 1955 article from a magazine that describes what the proper wife should do while her husband works. I'm hoping it shocks my students. That will be followed by a few letters/speeches written by women in the 1890's when the women @ work movement began. We'll then look at race and equal pay before diving into the final weeks leading up to their final projects, which I'll detail in another blog.

All this to say that yesterday resulted in my getting absolutely no grading done and job visits pushed back between 3:30 and 6:15. I sat on the couch last night after the visits refusing to work. I was fried. So when I checked my email during my 1st period study hall this morning, I was pleased to see an email from one of my inquisitive Law students saying I was her favorite teacher and wondered why I never reply to her emails. (She's been sending me links to various law cases and stories she's heard about to which I always respond verbally in class). 

Today, my law class took a quiz over Employment Law. I was worried, as I think this is a tough unit, with a load of laws to memorize and understand. The average was a 90% though, the best on a quiz I've given all year. I was pleasantly floored. Were these both signs of success?

Later in the afternoon, I had to run a worksheet downstairs for next week for another student who would be absent. In the classroom was another of my law students who saw me and gave me a big hug. I guess I've been more engaged with my students this week and we've talked about different types of humor people have (somehow this stemmed from a discussion on right vs. wrong). Teachers are told not to be personal with students. I disagree. Sharing a little makes connections, just like it does in any other relationship. 

I often wonder if I've been doing the right thing here. I came from a job where I wanted to be cool, have prestige and be noticed. There is a small part of me that wants that but I've washed most of those feelings off in the shower of career change. Right now, I just want to have students learn. (Having them act mature and respect each other would be great too, but thats going to take longer). I know I'm getting through to them but the outward display of such penetration hasn't happened yet. It was refreshing to know that just by laughing a little and getting off topic just a tad yesterday, my students are feeling a little more comfortable with me. 

The ones who are not doing well, I'm pulling aside and encouraging them. I even made one of them smile today. He's been a tough nut to crack, because he wouldn't ask questions. Wouldn't take notes. Wouldn't try. In the last 2 weeks he has taken notes, asked questions when there is time in class to do work and turns his stuff in. SUCCESS! Another student that I visited at work today, has had a rough home situation and hasn't been very focused at school. He's going to college for music and I told him that just in the last week, he's been more attentive and trying and that's great. SUCCESS! I told him to tap into the music for a little bit when home but that the work has to happen too, until graduation. I told him his D should be an A. He's got the smarts. His actions over the last week or so are a success that he is overcoming the problems in his life. I think he needed to hear that. And for me, one of the things I do best is encourage and tell people I'm there for them, that I'm on their side. I told that to my job student today and I hope it will bring him around to be a bit more dedicated to his studies.

I know this was a long composition, but after 3 months, I think you can afford me a little grace. It's been a good day. There are only 40 or so days lefts in the school year. Hopefully I can report on a few more of them over the next 8 weeks.

Take care folks.