Monday, July 30, 2007

The countdown begins...

Less than a month until we return to school! I'm excited about the start to a new year, new students, new classroom and a new fresh and positive outlook on my 2nd year of teaching. I'm going to miss summer though... I hate waking up early. *pout*

I've been pretty busy doing non-school related things. One of my best friends from college got married on Saturday, so I was playing host to some of my other friends who came into town for that reason. We had a blast. Just reminds me how much I miss college! :( This week I've got some math workshops that I am attending, one because I want to, the other because I have to. You know how that goes... gotta get in the required hours. Friday I'm packing up the suitcase one more time and heading out to the West Coast to see my dad and stepmother before school starts up again. I cannot wait! On the agenda while I'm there: catch a baseball game w/ the padre, maybe a movie or two with the parentals, lay by the pool, hit up the practice range and relax. I mean, does it get any better than this?

No, it doesn't.

The portables have FINALLY been delivered to our campus, although it's a little disconcerting to see exactly what holds portables up. I'll be stepping lightly knowing that it's basically just propped on a bunch of cinder blocks. Yikes. I tracked down one of our AP's to find out when exactly I can get in there to either start getting stuff organized or at the minimum, move out of my old room so the new tenant can get his stuff set up. But of course, my school is the black hole of no communication, and no one knows anything. They don't have the keys yet, they don't have any desks, boards, projectors, electricity connections, etc. Fantastic. I know they'll get it all in there before school starts, otherwise our parents will pretty much storm the office with torches and pitchforks but my worry is that I'll be up there the weekend before having to rush to get everything the way I want it, instead of doing a little at a time like I would prefer. I don't like not having control over my own time.

I've also come to the conclusion that I am going to be much meaner this year. It'll make my life so much easier. No one is leaving to go to the bathroom, to their locker, ANYWHERE! This portable stuff may not be too bad! If you forgot it, you might as well be late, because you aren't leaving to go get it. But don't worry, you'll still sign the book for being tardy too. This year we will be using textbooks (Texas finally got their crap together and we now have a version aligned with our testing) so that will be a big change for the students. Bring book, paper and pencil EVERYDAY! Don't have it? Sucks for you. Sit there, close your mouth and don't disrupt my class because you can't remember those 3 things. If you are lucky (and can ask quietly) maybe someone next to you will see you have nothing and take pity on you. One thing I was really bad about last year was allowing students in my room to "do homework" in the morning. Tutoring only this year.. I have stuff to do. That is my goal this year.. to be meaner! GRRRRR. We'll see how that goes. LOL.

A conversation from last year....

(H came into afternoon tutoring to finish a project she did not turn in.. when not tutoring I have music playing on the system in my room)

H: Who is this singing?

Me: Huey Lewis, I doubt you'd know him...

H: Do you know who (John Doe) is? I think he is so hot.

Me: Hmmm, haven't heard of him. What type of music does he sing?

H: Screaming.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A 4-day school week?

On the surface this sounds wonderful! Work Monday through Thursday and have a 3-day weekend every weekend! Sign me up for that!

A local district in the DFW area is proposing to do away with the typical 5-day school week for a 4-day... the reason?

It'll save them money. $2 million to be exact.

Where is $23,000 of that going to go? To the superintendent (chief) of the district. He apparently needs a raise from his $196,000 salary. I read this earlier on and about fell out of my chair. The story is no longer available on their site. Shocker. (Main story is here)

So the proposal is being presented to the school board to change elementary school days M-Th 7:45-4:30 and middle and high school M-Th 8:30-5:30. Now, most people not in the teaching profession probably wouldn't see this schedule as being bad. After all, the normal workday is 8 or 9-5, but let me tell you, I don't need kids in my class to have work to do. On an average day I generally spend 2 hours after school working on tutoring, grading, lessons, etc. If I'm lucky, I may leave once a week when the clock starts with a 4.

Now past the very obvious pro that you would have 3-day weekends every week, I can only see the cons in this situation.

1. Attention span and concentration

Come 9th period (3:05-3:55) my students are already barely capable of maintaining focus and concentration for the majority of the period. Extending the day out to (gasp) 5:30 might possibly kill me. There better be recess included in this extra time, and yes, I mean recess for teenagers. You have no idea how much they need it. I'll even spring for the Axe to spray them down when they come back in all sweaty and stinky.

2. Curriculum timing

I already have to rush through concepts because of lack of time in the school year and the sheer volume of concepts that must be taught, compounded by many days lost for testing (field testing, district testing, TAKS testing). How in the world do you expect me to fit all that curriculum (which already gets short-changed) into an even smaller time frame? Not going to happen.

3. Testing

The center of every teachers life. Again I go to the time issue. My entire teaching career revolves around testing. You give me less time to prepare my students and expect me to meet the fantastic standards of NCLB, or those of my highly demanding district? I think I'll use my Friday's off for therapy, thank you very much.

4. My Friday's

WOO HOO! I get every Friday off! I am going to sleep in, go shopping, go see a movie, anything I want! But wait.... my teaching days don't end til 5:30, and I am NOT staying at the school until 8 everyday, so crap. How is all my work going to get done? I would sleep in no matter how much work I had to do, but these Friday's would be spent working.

5. Parents

Your district just approved a 4-day school week. You now either have to take Friday's off to care for your child or find suitable childcare. Now let me tell you, Lancaster is not that big of a city and there is NO WAY the childcare system there is capable of handling an influx of thousands of elementary school kids for one day a week.

6. HS Students

You are learning to be a mature adult. You have a job. You can only work until a certain time due to child labor laws. Your new school schedule may have easily cut 2-3 hours off your schedule each day, except Friday, which you now have off to compete with any other worker who is normally scheduled during the day. Good luck with that.

Now these are the only ones I've come up with so far.. and I've only had about 12 hours to work with! Call me cynical, but I really do not see the positives in this for the teachers, students and parents. Once again, money rules all. This will save the district $2 million. Since when did profits/losses run our school system?

This year Texas has to abide by a new calendar put forth by my favorite politician, Mr. Rick Perry. *gag* Instead of issuing waivers to districts that wanted to start in early-mid August, all districts must now start no sooner than August 27. Why? To save money. Energy costs are expensive! Hmm.. is it really that much hotter on August 10th than the 27th? What'd you save there? $3? So instead of going from early Aug. - May, we will be going from late Aug. - June. Newsflash, Ricky. It's hot in June too.

Not only that, district exams have been pushed back until after the students return from Christmas break. FANTASTIC. District scores are already at 36%, and that's with reviewing for 3 days before the test. Lets see what they look like after having 3 weeks off! Now I must tell you that our district tests are the hardest tests I have ever seen. I go through and work all the problems and on average miss 1-3 problems. It makes the TAKS test look like child's play... which is why we were only 0.5% passing points away from being an "Exemplary" school last year. DAMMIT! It's probably going to be that close again this year.

All of these things affected by one day being taken away from the school week. I'm sure there are pros to the situation, and it may even be fruitful to try it out for a year and see how things turn out. You may be pleasantly surprised. But the agenda here is clear... do this to save money and it has to be good! Our system has lost the notion that their job is to educate students and do what is best for them. And apparently the superintendent and school board in Lancaster have lost their minds. If I taught in that district and this proposal was passed, I'd be looking for a new job... and quick.

Oh yes, and you must go read Mister Teacher's witty and great response to my previous post: "Living in a World of Women."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Living in a world of women...

Teaching is a great field. You get the opportunity to pass on knowledge to children in order to prepare them for life in the real world. It is a great feeling!

I always loved my teachers (sans my 5th grade homeroom, 11th grade Chemistry, 12 grade Econ and AP Statistics teachers) and admired them for their passion of teaching. My absolute favorite teacher was my 6th grade teacher, perhaps that is why I teach around the same age group.. we'll take another time to delve into my psyche. The picture of my teachers could be summed up in the same few words: 30's-40's white female. Not including my band directors, I never had a male teacher until 8th grade, when I was bombarded with 3 in one year! Man was that a change!

Male teachers are so different. It's hard for them not to be seeing how different men and women are on a basic level. For the most part, my male teachers had more vocal classes with more off topic discussions but those were the classes where I learned the most and enjoyed my time (except for my Chemistry teacher... that man was an absolute imbecile). Now my exposure to male teachers increased with every grade level I advanced, and it's safe to say that this is the trend for most districts... and I think it's rather unfortunate.

Male students respond so much better to male teachers, IMO. If they were exposed to this at an early age, 3rd, 4th or 5th grade I think they would be so much more successful in school, but instead they are living in a world of women. Most GROWN men have trouble understanding and dealing with women, and you expect little children and teenagers to deal nothing else throughout their entire time in school?! I think the boys are getting short changed here. In fact, I know they are. I can deal fairly well with boys on some levels; I know a lot about sports, music and other things that interest most, but I relate to girls so much better. I was raised in a house of girls. One of my co-workers has 3 boys, she relates so much better to boys because of her interactions and experiences with her own. But not every teacher has siblings or children to help them relate to their students better, so you rely on your own gender as a point of commonality. You have a relationship with half your students before they even walk in the door.

As crucial as it is for districts to get teachers in the classroom, they have got to start doing something about getting a good balance of male and female. Women have been able to crack their way into almost every job known to man in this country, with exception to the Presidency and maybe some professional sports. Why can't men seem to crack their way into the teaching profession?

Can't you just see the employment add now?

Seeking educated male with BA/BS and TeXes certification to work with 5-150 women daily who all eye you like a T-Bone steak anytime you walk into the room. Oh right, and you can change the world by teaching some little'uns too.

You laugh because you know it is true. Men in the teaching field are treated like gods! The women swoon, then other men breathe a sigh of relief for a standard deviation increase in the testosterone department and administrators pat them on the back for being the minority. I know I look at any male teacher walking through my school at the beginning of the year thinking.. "Ooh, he's cute! I wonder if he's married!" and other non-school appropriate things. There's just something about a man who is a teacher.. but for now I am living in a world of women.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Benefits Lapsed

Joey: Hmm that’s weird. I don’t remember being in a move called benefits lapsed.

Chandler: Okay, it’s not a check. They’re saying your health insurance expired because, you didn’t work enough last year.

Joey: Let me see that!

Joey: (reads it) Oh, I can’t believe this! This sucks! When I had insurance I could get hit by a bus or catch on fire, y’know? And it wouldn’t matter. Now I gotta be careful?!

Chandler: I’m sorry man, there’s never a good time to stop catching on fire.

Haha.. classic Friends. I love it. So I go to check my mail, expecting a few cards, a few invitations, a few packages and end up getting my annual notification from the district of our annual Insurance Benefits meetings, new medical and dental plans, and new premiums. Wonderful! Now I'm the first to admit that I know little about the districts decisions involving coverage, premiums and the company used to cover teachers medical costs, but I do have the basic understanding that what we are offered sucks. 4 different PPO plans, the two "middle of the road" plans being the most cost-effective for the average person are probably the biggest sellers. So why should it surprise me that they have increased the premiums and deductibles for these plans? Give me a break!

I rarely get sick. Most of my medical costs are preventative and wellness visits. So knowing full well that in the past 10 years I have needed to go to the doctor ONCE for an illness that needed medical intervention (Pink Eye.. thanks to my wonderful years in the daycare industry), I opted for the 2nd cheapest plan at $35 a month. Not too bad. First semester rolls by, barely a sniffle. I get past Christmas and back into the swing of things and the last day in January I get out of bed feeling a little.. slow. I go to work anyway and by 10AM I am not feeling great. Head into see our wonderful school nurse.. BAM: 100.7 degree temp. Having only taken one personal day for a family wedding in November, I opt to head home and nip this thing in the bud. Hah.. right. That night I shot up to 102.5, called into work, and slept the entire next day. Having not improved at all, I made an appointment w/ the doctor. Now the doctor I went to previously was a good hour drive from my home now, and feeling like absolute #$(&%#, I found a wonderful one 5 minutes away. Go in, a quick "breathe in, breathe out", explain the symptoms, swab of the nose, and confirmation of what I already knew. The lovely flu. I go to check out and clear my tab. That'll be $207.35. Um I'm sorry, I must be delirious. $200??? Hadn't met the deductible so I was paying out-of-pocket. Too sick to put up a fight, I hand over the plastic and head home with empty pockets and no medicine (not that it would have helped). Later that night, I have some sort of blood pressure drop or something because I about pass out on my floor, shake uncontrollably and my heart starts beating so fast I thought it was going to explode. Great.. that sounds normal. A (free) call to the doctor doesn't do much to reassure me.. "If it happens again, go to the emergency room." More sleep and the next day my fever spikes to 105.. I swear I was disconnected from reality. All downhill from there, but I end up taking 10 days off work with only 9 days to cover. My first day back was a blur. I still had a fever, about passed out during 3rd period and had to sleep in the clinic during lunch. Isn't life grand?

So I learned my lesson for next year... get a flu shot! That was my only run in with any doctor the entire year, and I paid $35 a month for my $200 bill. Now Thursday I get the joy of having the wellness visit I know all women look forward to as if it were Christmas, but these visits don't require a deductible so I'm hoping for a smaller bill. I'll wait til then to make my final decision, but the numbers don't lie. If I were to stay with the same plan next year, I'd be paying $50 a month for my coverage... which doesn't actually do anything for me until I reach the $1250 deductible (which will never happen) or I can pay $10 a month and still pay the same price out-of-pocket until I reach the $2000 deductible. And even IF I meet the deductible, I still have to pay 20-30%, depending on the plan.
Potential savings by switching plans: $480

Now as long as I don't get hit by a bus or catch on fire, the change will be worth it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

An introduction of sorts...

The need to do something academic has overpowered me these past few days. Going along with the current trend, I decided that a blog would be good use of my time and a way for me to document these times in my life. By "these times", I mean my close encounters with the third kind, aka pre-teens and teenagers.

Hi, I'm Ms. Longhorn and I'm a middle school math teacher. (All together now... "Hi, Ms. Longhorn.")

That's right, not only do I choose to work with and teach the melodramatic members of society on a daily basis, but I choose to teach them the work of the devil (at least that's what most of them think): math. That's right, I do have a death wish. But MATH + TEENAGERS = FUN in my book.. see how I incorporate a little math in there for you? You are smarter already!

Unlike most of my friends in college, I didn't always want to be a teacher. I didn't have a chalkboard and pretend classroom when I was little. I played sports, rode my bike, tormented my sister and was generally getting into things I shouldn't have been. Teacher was not on that list. I always loved kids and being around them. I started babysitting at the age of 11 for the neighborhood kids, and could have had a full-fledged business by the time I was 19. Don't tell the IRS, but I pocketed some major dough from 2000-2002! But all the while, my main focus was on animals. I grew up with many, starting from my childhood border collie who died when I was 16, to the cat we adopted when my parents divorced in 1993 (who made the trek with me to college and is back with me now living on my own), to the poodles we got a few years later. Intermingle 20 cats (long story, but we basically became a shelter for slutty female cats), 2 other short-term canine live-in's, 2 rabbits, 2 gerbils, 8 birds and a few fish along the way and that covers the pet portion of my life. So, could you blame me for wanting to be a vet? This stayed with me until I did a research project in 7th or 8th grade where I shadowed our family vet. Didn't take long for me to figure out I couldn't stomach most of the things involved in that profession. Blood and needles out, I just wanted to play with the pets.

Fast forward a few years and that brings you to my fascination with whales and dolphins. I could have been on Free Willy, minus the vandalizing and foster child part. Sea World ranks up there with Disneyworld on what makes me giddy and happy. So one summer in HS, my best friend and I sign up for a camp through the state university that runs a marine biology program. I loved it! Learning about the ecosystems and family dynamics of whales and dolphins, tracking them out in the Gulf of Mexico and working with a rescue group that helps stranded marine life; all awesome. Necropsies and wetsuits; not awesome. We already established the blood and needle thing, lets go ahead and add dead things to that list too. Being the ripe old age of 16, that suddenly got bumped down on my list, with the top spot as blank as ever. So I head into my senior year of high school, now having no idea what I want to do in college. I was accepted into the work program in school, which allowed me to leave as early as noon to work outside of school. I either had to have a food-service job or a daycare job. Having worked at CiCi's the year before, food service was out. Props to anyone who waits tables or works in the restaurant industry... people are very crabby about their food.

So I interview at a daycare smack dab in between my school and my house. For whatever reason, I got that job. From 2-6:30 during the week, I was one of two teachers in the 2-year-old room. I absolutely loved it. Nothing made me happier to walk into a room of 15 2-year-olds and have them shout out my name and run towards me, sticky hands and all. I knew I wanted to work with kids from that point on. I worked at that daycare from August 2000-May 2002 working in all the room, infant to school age. I left because my boss wouldn't give me a raise. I was the only person who had been there longer than 6 months and was working for $6/hr. I figured I earned that one, but was denied so I left and made my babysitting clients very happy.

I graduated HS in 2001, and headed off to college about 35 minutes away from my house. I was only 17 and not really socially ready to be out on my own, but enjoyed the academic part of college. I started out as a general education major, not really knowing exactly what my calling was. One semester on campus and I transferred to a branch of major college in Texas, where I lived at home, went to class, worked at the daycare and didn't do much else. I fell into a rut and became extremely depressed. My mom informed me that I was moving out when Fall Semester 2003 came around. Pissed that I was being "disowned" (or so I thought) I followed one of my few friends who actually left for college and went to the best place in the world for me. I had roommates, I lived near campus, I made friends (including my best friend who might as well be my sister), I re-joined band/marching band, I was involved in activities, sporting events and other things. As an education major at my school, you were required to take an elementary math class for teachers. This is where I fell in love. I always loved math and anything related. Logic, codes, puzzles, algebra, trigonometry, pre-cal, etc. I had a great professor who really pushed me to take that passion and learn to teach others.

I had a content area, just not an idea as to a grade level. Having the opportunity early on at my school to tutor elementary and middle school level kids, I knew the very young ones and very old ones were out. Teaching 2+2 doesn't really get me going, and I just am not smart enough to teach Alg. II/Pre-Cal.. I can learn it, but with teaching you have to have an extreme understanding of how things work, connect and build on other concepts. I just liked learning it. So that left the middle of the road and thankfully my school had a Grades 4-8 Math program. The 7 other girls in that program and I became sisters... we studied, partied, laughed, cried and bonded during the next 3 years. We supported each other through our internship, our crazy advisor, our ridiculously extreme requirements, our waning social lives, and many others. There were illnesses, deaths, births, weddings and vacations that we experienced together. We were sisters.

Then graduation comes around faster than I ever thought, and it's all over. All that hard work, my year of student teaching, my entire life walked across that stage in 2006. We all cry, promise to stay in touch and go our separate ways. 3 are now married, one more getting married in 2 weeks! One is in the Air Force, another no one knows where she went. Do we still keep in touch? I do with the 3 I was closest with, but the closest any of them are to me now is a 5 hour drive. Thank goodness for Facebook and MySpace! I miss college. I miss going to IHOP at 3AM just because we can. I miss football and basketball games. I miss MWF classes that you just stop going to at the end of the year. I miss the feeling of being a student at my school. I miss our local hangout. I miss so many things.

But now I'm in real life. I moved back in the metro area of my hometown, about 25 min away from my mom and stepdad. I interviewed with a really great suburban district in March 2006 and got the job. First interview got me my first job. Not bad. I was going to be teaching 7th grade math, both on-level and Pre-AP. I spent my first summer "on my own" decorating my apartment, getting reacquainted with the city, and attending hours upon hours of staff development and classes to prepare me for my year ahead. Nothing prepares you for your first year of teaching except actually doing it. My year long internship definitely helped, but the feeling is so different when there is someone else in the room who is REALLY in charge. I was thinking while laying in bed the other day, "What did I do/say on the first day?" In all honesty, I can't even remember. My first year was such a blur, don't expect me to remember a specific day!

As blurry as it all is, I will never forget how wonderful my first year of teaching was. I work with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Our grade level is composed of 3 teams, and I must say that my team is the most amazing. I love them all. Within each grade level is a department, in my case, the 7th grade math department. These ladies are the reason I got through my year. With all the stuff that we are required to do individually, these ladies never hesitated to stop and explain something to me if I was having trouble. Teamwork at its finest. The students for the most part were absolutely amazing as well. I have never laughed so hard and cried so hard because of these kids. They are the silliest bunch of "children-who-think-they're-adults". For anyone who has a child who is 12, 13 or 14, you know... they are watching Hannah Montana one minute, then going to see Hostel the next. Stuck between two worlds... the drama never dies, neither do the tears, laughs and memories.

Living in the same town I teach in has its perks. I have seen many of my students/parents around since then end of school... movie theatre, mall, grocery store, etc. That is also a downfall... would you want to see one of your teachers in sweats and no make-up after working out? Yikes. I guess I better go tidy up before I go out... karma tends to deal in big doses with me!

Quote/Question of the Year:
*while going over box models for dividing fractions*

S: Ms. L, why in the world are we having to learn how to divide boxes to represent fractions?

Me: Well S, it's because you are required to have an understanding of the problem in a picture form.

S: Yeah, but why boxes? Is there just some idiot at their desk who makes up these rules saying "Hmmm.. I think I'll have them divide boxes today!"?

*class erupts in laughter... me trying to hide my smile*

Me: Yes, S. That is exactly what happens.