Archive for May, 2015

Only in Middle School

There was a picture going around a few years ago, captioned “only in middle school”.  It showed a boy with his head through the hole in the back of a plastic bucket chair and a number of people with tools trying to free him.  If you haven’t been around middle school boys, you probably thought it was faked.  I believe it.

Most of the boys in my class seem to think that they’re talented percussionists.  Any pen or pencil they have becomes a drumstick, and they constantly create rhythms on their desks.  Constantly.  While I’m talking.  To put it mildly, it can be irritating, and asking them to stop only creates a brief pause.

Fred was a tall, African-American boy with short dreads.  He seemed easy-going, but he had a temper.  One day last year he leaped over two desks to pound a boy that apparently had been teasing him.  But he stopped when I told him to, and seemed more abashed than angry when he was suspended.  Anyway, I was trying to teach, with  Fred providing a rhythmic background when suddenly he yipped.  If you’ve taught in middle school this kind of noise can mean anything from a paper cut to a dog walking by the window.  I looked over and he held up his hand.   His freshly sharpened pencil-drumstick had gone through the web of his hand by his thumb, poking out about an inch.

“Run to the clinic.” I said, “The rest of you, uh, finish the, uh, reading.”  He ran out, I followed at a trot.  When I got there, the nurse had already dialed 911, and was on the phone with his parents.  “No,” she said, “you can’t pick him up and take him to the emergency room, the ambulance is coming.  No!  Fred!  Don’t pull it out.”  As she wrapped his hand loosely in gauze, the principal came in.

“Go to my room.  I left the kids alone.  I’m staying here.”  And I did, patting him on the shoulder and keeping him calm.  The ambulance came, he left with the paramedics and I returned to class.  We made him a card.

He was back in a few days, tapping away.  Only in middle school.

TPRS CI stuff

Lots going on in the CI/TPRS world right now.  I’m trying to add links to the blog roll as things come up.

So, two big things: First  Sunday afternoon, May 17 at 6 PM CST, a Google handout with TPRS/Comprehensible Input providers from iFLT.

Then, Martina Bex, using Carol Gabb’s acronym for TPRS–Teaching Proficiency is Really Simple, is posting a series of blog posts about getting started with TPRS.  The first was about the acronyms used, then second about what to look for when you see a demo.  Good stuff.

There is great stuff on all the CI/TPRS blogs, and, as I see them, I’ll keep adding them.


What I’ll miss

My public school career has ended rather abruptly–but that’s a story for another time.  I’ve been home for two weeks now, and there are things I’m not missing

1 Meetings.  Pointless meetings.  I remember, in another school long ago, a discussion about how we could reduce the number of meetings to become more productive.  That was before e-mail, mind, and we figured out how to sometimes avoid that one, single, solitary faculty meeting a month.  No meeting if we didn’t need it was the promise.  Now?  If there is time for a meeting, there will be a meeting.

2. Grading.   I always enjoyed creating lessons and projects to help the children learn.  But grading them?  I rather liked looking things over and seeing how they did, but the hours sitting and grading, recording grades, taking notes….and because of the endless meetings, there was no time in the school day to do it.  So…six to eight hours every weekend catching up. Oh, and I’ll lump in sending out a Remind text, uploading the assignment to the website, etc.

3. The Big Standardized Test. Oh, and the meetings about the BST.  The convoluted schedule to get every child to a computer. This year?  Three weeks of testing, one grade level a week, a different schedule every week.  Would we see our students in language class?  Would we have longer classes or short ones?  Oh, and reading the test to the English Language Learners after I signed my life away saying I would not look at the test.  Always a fun trick.

4. Proving I teach.  I generally put that off until the end of the year, so this year I didn’t do it.  So I guess I didn’t teach.  Look at the multi-page teacher evaluation rubric and provide lesson plans the length of term papers,  upload samples of student work, reflections, update the website where we write our units,  submit logs of parent contacts, proof that I figured out something to lead a team meeting when it was my turn…another six to eight hours on a weekend.  Oh and a couple of days administering the ‘primary and secondary measures’, then grading and uploading the results to prove that I taught something.  Regular assessments just wouldn’t do.  At least I didn’t have to use the BST for my evaluation.

5. Unjamming the copier.  Standing in line at the copier. Buying my own supplies so I don’t have to do paperwork and then wait. Buying notebook paper, notebooks and pencils to give to the kids who didn’t have them. Hiding the stapler from the kids so that they don’t throw staples.  Hiding the tape dispenser so there is tape when I need it.  Switching out the materials and changing the screen between classes, all while standing in the hall. Another fun trick.

6. Inhaling lunch while grading a stack of papers.  I learned early not to eat at my desk.  The 20 or so minutes I had without kids was the only time all day I wasn’t ‘on.’

7. Whack a mole…the constant monitoring of classroom behavior, checking the clock, time to do what I’d planned, did the kids get it, change plan in midstream, they need to get up and move, they’re lethargic, they’re hyper, let’s do something calming…my brain was on overtime for six hours a day.

8. Being ‘on’.  Being professional, kind, upbeat, pleasant.  Watching my words.  Holding my neutral face through the whole day.  Emotionally exhausting.

I could go on.  Our state legislature.  New initiatives.  Just one more thing–it’ll only take five minutes…but I’ll stop.

What I do miss? What is the reason teachers continue to endure all the ridiculous micro-management ? The kids. The exhausting, demanding, frustrating, irritating, wonderful kids.  I really miss my kids.


It was a few weeks ago, a Friday, late.  I’d joined the exercising teachers, probably entertaining people with my struggle to get on the ground, and then back up.  Oh well.  That’s exercise, too.

So, anyway, I was leaving, my sack of grading ready for me to put the requisite miles on it when I heard my name.  It was an ‘old’ kid.  He was probably a sophomore, now, and he was looking for teachers to greet.

“I’ve decided I want to be a French teacher,” he said, ” and it’s because of you and a teacher at the high school.”

Of course, I started crying.  He’d spoken in French. “That’s so cool.”  I said. We talked, I smiled, I was thrilled…but at the same time, I wasn’t.  “Run!  Run!”  I wanted to cry.  “It’s a trap.  It used to be fun, but now…”

I thought about the endless, pointless meetings, the Big Standardized Test, the data gathering, the bean-counting…

Shhh!  I thought.  He’s only 16 or 17.  He has time to change his mind.  He has time to become disillusioned.  He has time to choose another career.

“Come back and see me” I lied, knowing I was retiring at the end of the year. “Let me know where you decide to study.”

That was my good thing for that day.  And my worst.

Sadly, not vampires

For several years the house behind us has been vacant.  Our elderly neighbor had had to move out, and in the past few months the family had been working on it.  About a month ago we started hearing noises.  Lights came on in the evening.  There was a papa-san chair in an upstairs window.  But there was never anyone there during the day.

As any one would, I figured we had vampires for neighbors.  No one was ever there during the day.  But I’d hear a car drive up after dark, after I’d gone to bed.  I’d hear the door slam,  peek out the back window and see shadows behind the new shades. They were so obviously vampires.  There was no moving van, no parade of people carrying in furniture.  Just shadowy figures after dark.

Well, we met them the other day.  During the day.  Perfectly normal people who were maintaining two households until they could move.  “I bet you thought we were vampires or something.”  “No, of course not.”

There’s a pretty cool hole at the base of one of our trees.  Maybe the little people will move in. One can only hope

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