Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Trace of Childhood

I'm sharing something a bit different on this week's blog.

If you knew me as a kid, you may know we did a lot of family trips each year. Most of those trips were done by car and as a family, my parents, sister and I saw a lot of the Eastern U.S.A. on these vacations (Every state east of the Mississippi except Maine, oddly enough). Back in the day, there were card games, board games and other things that kept us occupied on such long drives. For example, do you recall the "coloring books" with the magic pens that somehow knew which color to create depending on where on the page it would touch? Between the hours of car games and the mega-hits of the 80's that played on the radio (can you say "We Are the World"?) as we traveled across the country, those trips were always fun. Well, except perhaps the time we drove back from Washington, D.C. when the timing belt on our car went kaput in Clyde, Ohio!

At any rate, one of my favorite memories in these car rides was counting license plates on the cars that went by. There used to be little boards that were red with little sliding panels that you could use to mark off the states or scenes you passed by (silos, cows, barns, water towers, horses, etc.). To this day, I still count state plates. When I lived in Chicago and walked to work, I averaged 5 state plates per morning on my walk. I held to the superstition that if I didn't see 5 plates it was going to be tough day. More than 5, and things were going to be great! It is nonsense, but it made the day interesting.

Enter the era of phone apps and now I can use my phone to track which states I see. From Thanksgiving, November of 2011 through the end of 2012, I counted 45 plates. The ones I had not found included Vermont, Nevada, D.C. (it counts), Montana, Alaska and Hawaii. Not bad for someone who basically stayed in Illinois the entire year!

I have since restarted the clock and in the last 5 days alone, these are the plates I have seen:

Did you notice that all three of these are plates are ones that I never once saw last year?

I see a lot of cars from Texas and Iowa for some reason. There are the typical nearby states such as Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. On my drives back and forth to Chicago I see a lot of trucks from Maine, Oklahoma and Minnesota. Those are all fairly typical. I also managed to see quite a few plates from Canada, such as Quebec and Ontario, even one from Saskatchewan. Too bad those don't show up on plate apps.

With the way this year is going, perhaps I may even catch Hawaii and Alaska!

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Welcome to Teaching 2013-Style

Knock! Knock! Knock! Anyone still here? A little dusty in this space. Time to spruce it up!

Okay, I know I've been really tardy on writing blogs the last 18 months or so. Only one blog in 2012. Really? Yes, really. It was a great year, but I'm hoping to make this space a bit of a re-awakening of sorts.

(side note: I'm wondering where the phrase 'spruce it up' came from)
(side note #2: The Baltimore/Denver playoff game is on an it is GOOD! This may take longer to write than normal!)

Anyway, I need to get back to writing here because this has been one heck of a week back to start the second semester of School.

I kicked off the school year last Friday, going in for a few hours despite a throbbing headache I assumed was a cold. When my head pounds, it is usually due to changes in the weather, but this one was a bad. At any rate, going in before the semester starts is more of a peace of mind activity. I had everything prepared for the first day of classes and my room was clean and organized. I didn't really have to do anything. I just needed to make sure. One of my life mottoes is be prepared. I knew I was but another motto is: double check. So that's what I did last Friday.

My classes are smaller this semester, which I love but wouldn't mind having a few more students, especially in my keyboarding class, my first class of the day this semester.

As a recap, the day begins at 8. I aim to be there before 7:30 (again, remember my two mottoes). I head up the stairs to the 3rd floor and dump my belongings in the office. That Monday, I didn't go back to the opposite side of the building on the 2nd floor to my classroom, but just straight down the hall to the business computer lab to mark my seating chart.  I encountered my first (but manageable) problem upon entering the lab - our grade database was not working. I had no access to my student roster! No problem, as I had seen the list previously. As the kids walked in around 7:55 I realized I have a GOOD group of kids. I can see one is going to be pretty talkative (freshman) and the rest, although mostly underclassmen, were kids who already seemed to be on task. One of my favorite kids from my law class last semester was in my keyboarding class and she was super excited to begin. I love enthusiasm. Class was interrupted a few times by one of our assistant principals who had to quickly reschedule our hall duty assignments for the following period (every teacher has either hall duty or is on a Team who meets twice a week). No problem.

Second hour was my hall duty, now located at the bottom of the main stairwell, tucked in a bit of a corner. Last semester I had hall duty during 1st period and was in a more trafficked area, meaning I had to write a LOT of tardy passes.

Third hour is my Coop 1 class, a bit larger than last semester and 4th hour is my Coop 2 course, my seniors, about the same size it had been.

In all 3 classes we went through the syllabus and then I did an personality/learning styles assessment that is called True Colors. It is pretty accurate and I think all of my students enjoyed it. I learned a lot about them, seeing who needs more structure and less structure. (Next week I am rearranging my seating chart by their colors to see if that makes a difference in their talkativeness, especially in my Coop 2 group).

The rest of the week went along pretty well. No major issues with any students, except for the four who had no job (a requirement before school began!!!). One student had quit her job, another hadn't had one in a few months since they'd been fired a few months earlier and another one had a job but it turned out to be a seasonal job so she needed a new place. Two other students came in on Monday saying they needed a job but both found employment quickly, with my help.

Luckily, I have some amazing employers in the area who want to work with high schoolers. The manager of the Culvers in South Champaign gets an especially big nod, as I've never seen an employer who wants their employees to be as well-rounded or as open with him about their lives as he does. They go so far as to call him Dad sometimes. Amazing guy. Jimmy Johns (headquartered in town) also hires many students and I had a new student join my program on Wednesday. We meet later that afternoon and together we called Jimmy Johns and asked if they were hiring. We got him an interview at 4pm and he was hired on the spot. Seems like a great kid and I can't wait to see how he flourishes.

At any rate, Friday came, and although I'd had lessons planned for the week, they needed to be adjusted based on what feedback I was getting from the kids. In every class I adjusted my plans (hooray, good teacher qualities!!!). The first week back is always tough, as both teachers and the students are getting used to being in the routine again. Still not feeling well (or sleeping well) I was giving my all during the day and crashing on the couch in front of the tv every night. I had by Thursday recognized that I didn't have a cold and was instead a strange sinus infection. My doc is out of town so I was told to go to Convenient Care. Thank goodness I keep an antibiotic pill or two (or three) each time I get a prescription. I am not going to Convenient Care and being around people who are there with the flu (an epidemic at the moment).

I digress....

Friday was Pay Day lunch in the teacher lounge followed by time for me to run around working on two separate projects. The first was getting notices out to the 70-odd seniors who want to attend the senior trip in March and the other was to talk to the counselors about those two students who were still jobless. I got the first project done during 6th hour. 7th hour, on my way to the counselors office, I saw one of my favorite Coop students crying in the hallway. She hadn't been herself during class, keeping her head down on the desk and mumbling inaudibly so I had sent her to her dean. (Turns out that was good because she was sent to the Study Hall room where the auto teacher was presiding that hour and she could talk about her ailing car with him). Aaaaannnnnyway, I saw this particular student in the hall just before the 7th hour bell rang and she came up to me asking if she could talk. Her eyes were so red it looked like she had pink-eye. She was crying once I said yes. We found a quite spot in the teacher copy room which was vacant for the moment. She then laid out the difficulties she had faced over the two weeks of break. Now, this kid works two jobs, 30+ hours a week and goes to school. She is sweet as could be and I know her home-life was a little tough, but it had gone down hill. As she sobbed and told her story, I tried to just listen and give advice where I could. I was feeling a bit guilty for not sending her to history but this was partly about Coop so I let her talk...for 35 minutes. Hopefully I was enough of a sage to make her feel better over the weekend. I am hoping that Monday finds this kid smiling again. She reminds me of myself in several ways. Big heart, positive and determined to do her best. She helps everyone she can, often overlooking herself, a lesson I had learned into my late 20's.  I walked her back to class, a bit more at ease than before and then headed to the counseling office. I saw the social worker and gave her a heads up as I waited for the counselors to open their doors from various meetings with students who were making last minute schedule changes.

By the end of the day, I had gotten both of those jobless students to meet with their counselors. Both were heading to open interviews at Taco Bell and had done or were about to do a few online applications. One was hopefully going to hear from my guy at Culvers this weekend about being hired.

I'm resting this weekend (obviously watching more tv). I really have a good feeling about this semester. There are a lot of other things in the works, which I'll keep secret for now. More about those as they develop!

Have a great weekend folks. And thanks for coming back to read my teaching-life journey!