Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Not to Yell at Students

Step one:

Get a part-time teaching job.  By the time you're frustrated, you're done.  This helps enormously.

Step two:

Agree with everything the disrespectful students say:
Student: I wish we had our old teacher back!
Me: I know, it's awful that you're stuck with me now.
Student: You're so mean!
Me: I really am!  People tell me that a lot.
Student: You're the meanest teacher ever!
Me: Pretty much, yes.

Student: I'm going to get you fired!
Me: You should definitely tell the principal to fire me because I'm making you work.

Oh, this is way too much fun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sixth Graders


I love them.  I really do.

A student, let's call him "Jacob," who I'm tutoring in writing wrote me a story about a cat who fell into toxic waste and lived.  Then we played hangman.  His sentence?

"[my name] will lose to the wrath of the almighty Jacob."

My students answered some questions today in a writing exercise.  Here are some of the highlights:

What do you want me to call you?
  • Call me Ana but it's not my name.
  • I want you to call me Mr. Ramos
  • I don't care.
  • Call me "Daddy."

What languages do you speak?
  • I speak English.
  • I speak Tagalog, Visaya*, and English
  • I speak english at school & a little filipino
  • Bosnian, English, and a little of Spanish
  • I speak English and Spanish and Samoan.
  • I speak English every day and I could speak Spanish.
  • I speack Bosnian at home and English at school.
  • I speak english in school, spanish in spanish class and chinese at home.
  • I speak english at school and Arabic at home.
  • I speak english and Russian and learning hebrew.
  • I speak english at school and half englis and have togan [Tongan] at home.
  • I speak African American.

Where were you born?
  • I was born in Oakland.
  • I was born in the Philippines and stayed there until I was 8.
  • Bosnia
  • I was born is the state of Main all the way across the United States. The hospital's name is Machias.
  • Bosnia
  • I was born in Russia.
  • Berkeley
  • I was born in China.
  • I am born in Alameda.
  • I was born in New Zealand.
  • I was born in a hospital.
  • How would I know?
Describe your family.
  • I have one sister and my mom but my dad is in the Philipines and I never seen him since I was seven.
  • I have 4 people.
  • My family is wonderful an my pets.
  • I live with my mom and visit my dad on school breaks.  My mom and dad dont live with each other.  My dad lives in oragon and my mom lives here in California.  I ahve 2 older sisters and they live in Oakland the safe sid.  On my moms side of the family I have 1 uncle, 4 cousins, 1 Great Aunt, and 1 Aunt.  On my dads side I have 2 uncles, 1 Aunt, and thats it.  I have a black lab named Dozer and 2 Cats named Sneaker, and Boots.
  • My family is nice and my pet is a small dog and her name is Chamila.
  • Dad-Mom-sis-sis-sis-brother-brother-female dog.
  • My family is cool and nice.
  • I have a fun brother two awesome parents and two awesome grandparents.  five boring fish.  My parents never yell.
  • My sister is bossy, My brothers are electronic people, My parents are working hard, my grandmother cooks a lot.
  • I have 6 family members My mom wears a head scarf just like me My dad drives a truck with this company and My brother is 10 My other brother is 8 My little sister is 5
  • The family that I live with is not my Real parents but now since they adopted me they are and when I came to California from Russia I got a dog and there was 2 cats but 1 died but we got another cat.
  • I have a mother and a father.
  • Unique, nice, caring, kind, loving, a piece of my heart.
  • I have four family members including me, my mom, dad, and my brother, and I also has a flower horn fish pet.**
What is the best thing that has ever happened to you at school?
  • The best thing that happened to me is I got 1st place on my art project I did.
  • Nothing
  • I got out of school.
  • Getting all 4.0 grades for the whole year.
  • The best thing that happen to me at school is I got an 4.0.
  • I fonud a five Dollers
  • The best thing that has happen to me is have my first best friend at school
  • The best thing that ever happen to me was my fifth grade graduaion.  I had food and all kinds of stuff.
  • That we won our basketbal game.
  • I got an award for math.
  • when I got A's and B's
  • when I used to go to school in Oragon I got an award for not getting in trouble on the yard for a mounth.  That was the best thing that ever happened at school.
  • Nothin.
  • I got alot of rewards.
  • I figured out that a lot of guys like me.... haha shh! don't tell anyone ^o^

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you at school?
  • The worst thing is when I first came to the U.S. I went straight and I didn't know anything the people are saying.
  • when I got suspended.
  • I went to school.
  • getting out of math class.
  • I dunno.
  • the worstest thing that happen to me at school is I fell because I run too fast and my backpack is heavy.  The ground was wet and I fell.
  • win I got hit with the Ball
  • The worst thing that happend at school was lose my friend because he moved.
  • the worst thing that ever happened at school was when I threw up in the hall way.
  • I don't know maybe when I got in trouble the last time I remembered.
  • The worst thing ever happed to me in school was I got saspended.
  • My enemies.
  • I never got it.
  • when I used to have F's
  • when I was in 4th grade at school I Farted really loud and every body heard it.
  • Nothin.
  • I got in trouble badley
  • Someone tripped me and the worst was someone spit on me.
  • The worst thing that happened is that I threw up in class.

Don't worry... that is not it, it's just bedtime.  To be continued...

*Pretty impressive that she speaks a language I've never heard of.

**Can anyone clue me in on a flower horn fish pet?

Monday, February 22, 2010

First Day of School

How often is the first day of school February 22?

I am happy to report that I really like my new class.  I mean, I've met them for a total of 103 minutes, so that judgment may be premature, but I don't think so.  They are very diverse - not like my other district where "diverse" meant black kids - but actually diverse.  There are kids who came from Bosnia, Russia, China, Nepal, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Mexico, Central America, and a few other places I'm not sure of.  There are kids who didn't say one word and a couple who came in like it was their job to be a one-man (or woman) show.

I'm impatient for Wednesday because at the moment, their sub of the last two months is still there.  The principal thought it would be a good idea to have a transition time with both of us.  I think she was worried that I'd be overwhelmed but I feel that I am now sufficiently experienced in difficult kids that I'm going to be just fine for two hours a day.  The sub lends an interesting dynamic.  She is 22, just out of college, with no experience at all.  She is very helpful in some ways - she calculated the kids' grades and compiled all their information for me, which she didn't have to do.  In other ways, she's... young and inexperienced.  Examples:
"That kid over there is the most horrible human being I've ever met."

"That one is autistic.  I don't know why he won't do his work - he's not, like, stupid.  He just has a huge attitude, that's his main problem."

In addition, the kids can eat in class, wear their hats and hoods, have their cell phones on, sit with their friends, be late, and leave garbage on the floor.  Please do not have any doubts that this will all change.  Very quickly.

The office staff and administration is (so far) very welcoming and helpful.   We can actually get our own supplies and not have to beg for them or hoard (very strange).  The vice principal expressed surprise that the room didn't have a working computer and told me that she would get one set up immediately.  A much better response than "You know how you get those people to donate things sometimes? Do you think they'd give us computers?"

There was one boy sitting in the back who was drumming on his desk throughout the whole period.  Finally, while the other kids were working, I went over to him and asked if he was a drummer.  He said yes and apologized for his table drumming.  I told him that it was OK, my brother was a drummer and I know it's hard for them to turn it off.  I said that I might ask him to stop sometimes, but I wasn't mad at him.  He agreed very quickly and managed to abstain for the rest of the period.  Power struggle averted.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I just posted about my new job - at a totally different but very geographically close district from the one I used to work in.

I'm not sure I ever had a copy of the contract at my old district, but I'm looking through the contract for the new one and I am blown away.  By how many things did not happen in the old one.  I don't know if the old district had these stipulations in their contract too and they just got ignored or if they didn't even have them.  But either way, here is my list of Things That Are Exciting in My New Contract, complete with snarky commentary.

1. "The District shall provide each unit member access to a computer workstation with legally purchased and licensed software and/or network access necessary for the support of educational programs and to fulfill necessary professional requirements.  The District shall provide each unit member with access to at least one printer that is free from student access.
Really?  We won't have to beg for free computers and literally have friends build new computers out of rejected parts in order to have some sort of technology in the classroom?  And a printer... wow... that's living the dream.

2. Each site shall be provided with the following for staff use: a lunchroom/faculty lounge, adequately furnished, adequate lavatory facilities for staff use only, telephone facilities which provide privacy.
Notice it doesn't say that the lunchroom can't smell like pee.  Phones that call out and provide privacy?  That's just weird.

3. Each school site will have classrooms usable for teachers at least three working days before teachers are required to report back to work.
Interesting alternative to the answer I got from a principal:

Me: I still can't get into my classroom because the custodians haven't finished with it and school starts tomorrow.

Principal: I really don't know what you're going to do about that.

4. The District shall provide the following storage space: a separate lockable drawer space with key at every teaching station for every teacher, lockable closet space with key to store coats and other personal articles.
And they mean it - I got the keys today and there is a key to a drawer and a key to a closet.  Bizarre.  My method was always to just put my wallet, etc on top of the closets, which I could barely reach and I knew a kid couldn't reach.  This solution is better.

5. Every classroom and major work area shall have a reliable means of communication to the site office and 911.
Yeah, I had that.  It was called my cell phone.  Sometimes I'd call the office from my cell phone because it worked better than the school phones.  And 911 too.  From the cell phone.

It'll be interesting to see how this experience is different!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A New Job!

I've been wanting to get a part-time teaching job, because I'm not ready to go back to teaching full-time (I got awfully burned out - well, really I puked my guts out and then had sort of a seizure-ish reaction to the anti-emetic drugs and got big bruises from the IVs, etc).  So, I was pretty excited when a friend told me about a 33% position at a middle school nearby.  I decided to apply, even though I don't have the right credential.  More on that later.  I am happy to say that I got the job, and was even informed that there were more qualified candidates than me (since I don't have the right credential) and I got it because I interviewed so well.

The job will be two hours each morning through the end of the school year.

This district is right next to but very different than the one I used to work at.  The difference really is astounding in how people treat others and are treated. 

The credential issue is frustrating however, and entirely due to No Child Left Behind.  I will explain soon in another post why the proposals for teacher merit pay under NCLB are a bad idea.  But right now, let me point out two examples of how the "Highly Qualified" criteria required of teachers under NCLB doesn't make sense.

1. Last year, a teacher I know at a high school in the district I used to teach in told me that there had been a vacancy in the Spanish department throughout most of the year.  This is surprising because that district recruits heavily from Spain .  It was explained to me that the teacher, from Spain, who had the job at the beginning of the year was not "highly qualified."  I don't know what it was, a test, or something that was missing.  The district dismissed the teacher because he or she didn't get highly qualified in time.  However, they couldn't find someone who was highly qualified and wanted to work there, so the kids had subs.  All year.  Because apparently the best alternative to ideal is nothing at all.

2. Me.  I have a K-8 multiple subject credential.  This means that if there is a self-contained classroom (i.e. the kids stay in the same classroom all day and don't change classes like high school) and it is any grade from kindergarten to 8th grade, I can teach it.

Sixth grade used to be in elementary school.  In many districts, it is now middle school, due to overcrowding, etc.  If a district has sixth grade in elementary school, I am qualified to teach it.  All the subjects: English, math, social studies, science, PE, whatever.  It a district has sixth grade in a middle school but keeps the sixth graders in one classroom all day while the older students switch classes (not common but exists), I can teach it.   All the subjects.  Now, if you take that same sixth grade, with the same curriculum and the same state-mandated standards, and the same age students... but you have them change classes... I am magically not qualified any more.  Now I'm only teaching English (one class of it) so even though I was qualified to teach that SAME English class plus all the other subjects, once you take the other subjects away, I am no longer qualified.

In practice, it doesn't matter that much.  I have to promise to take a test in the next year if I want to keep the position, and the position is only four months long.  But in theory, it is really frustrating.  All the same, I'm glad for the job.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One Major Problem With Standardized Testing...

... the people scoring it.

Please read this.  I'm going to order the book and would be happy to share it.  I'm not surprised by this, but I wish I were:

Farley tells of test scorers who arrived each morning hung-over, and didn’t make much progress on their daily quotas until they had taken several “fortified” coffee breaks, test scorers who were far more interested in studying for the bar exam than in carefully reading the papers they were scoring, and foreign-born scorers who could not understand simple English.

These stories are funny until one realizes that students’ fates hung in the balance. The results of some of these tests, like the California High School Exit Exam, may determine a young person’s future. Others, like the fourth and seventh grade writing samples of the California Standards Tests, may help decide which schools are closed and which stay open.....

Several years ago one of the largest high schools in the Oakland was moved to a more punitive level of Program Improvement, which would have been avoided if only two students had received higher scores.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


We had a meeting once with district employees about earthquake safety.  I think this was to update emergency procedures, which was kind of too bad, because the previous flyer we had was copied from a typewritten (yes, typewritten) page that was entitled"  

"In Case of Earthquake, Fire, or Bomb Treat."

It was disappointing to lose the bomb treat  procedures (who doesn't love treats?), but I guess it had to be updated.

Anyway, the district representative began to tell us about what to do in case of fire or earthquake.  She said that each classroom had two points of egress:  the door and the one window that opened.  I was in one of the portable classrooms, which had one door and two windows, both with bars on them that were fixed in place.  (The front window had a couple of bullet holes in them -- yes, bullet holes.) 

I raised my hand and pointed out that in some classrooms, there is no secondary exit.  I said that my classroom only had one door and that neither of the windows opened.  

The district representative's response?

I'll give you a hint.  It wasn't "That's concerning; let's bring that up and make sure your students are safe."  It wasn't "Oh, you're right, the portable classrooms are not up to code."  It wasn't even "Yeah, there's nothing we can do about that so try not to have a fire."
She looked at me and said:

"Oh, look at the ornery one over there!"

Then she moved on.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Guest Blog: Anna

Today's post is from Anna, a social work student who volunteered in my class as an undergraduate.  She volunteered both in a group and individually, working with small groups of students.  I can't wait to see what she's going to do in the future because she is awesome.  These particular students are not easy and she never faltered for a minute.  At least she didn't show it if she did!

When I first stepped into this class, I wasn’t quire ready for what was going on inside.  What I knew about elementary school was basic: the teachers taught and the students listened.  Volunteering at this school was vastly different than my expectations.  When I was an elementary student, I obeyed the teacher and would participate whenever I could.  I believe most of my classmates responded along the same lines.  This school, on the other hand, was completely opposite.  The value of education is not very high on the priority list.  Students would have difficulty staying quiet to listen how to complete the worksheet.  Students would be hitting each other, talking, roaming the classroom, pretty much anything opposite from listening.  I could not stand all those bodies not listening.  What really baffled me was the students’ behavior when I led small groups of three.  They could understand how to do the worksheets when I was with them in the small group, but not sitting at the desk while the teacher spoke.  I did not have any answers for those two disconnects except for the fact that they were poor.

I did not quite understand why the students acted that way when I first entered the classroom, but now that I am studying social work, it makes some sense.  If you do not have access to your basic needs, you are going to take care of them first.  Who cares about doing homework if you don’t know what you are going to eat tomorrow.  Or if you don’t have someone telling you to complete your homework. Or if you have to take care of chores and siblings until your parents or guardians get home.  Homework or school is not the priority. 

Now, to explain the different reactions in small group.  What I think is that these students do not have the opportunity to get individual attention most of their day.  In those small groups, I could provide them with one on one attention that children need in their development.  A sense of nurturing and love.  If mom and dad are working all day, most likely the students will get brief attention when mom and dad come home, but that’s not enough.  Children need to have an adult source that believes in them.  Someone who believes they can do well in school.  Congratulate them on passing a reading test.  Provide them with direction on how to change their bad habit of yelling in class.  Most importantly someone who listens to them.

Monday, February 01, 2010

School Burglaries

Having your school burglarized is really, really awful.  It happened to us one year, in the kindergarten building, and it took weeks to clean up and the school lost a considerable amount of supplies - many of which were bought by the teacher.  In addition, the students' work was destroyed.  Technology doesn't come easily in some of these schools, and the computers were stolen or destroyed.  Of course, there's also the feeling of violation that comes from having your classroom ripped apart - for both the students and the teachers.  The teachers can probably hide it better but it's no less.

This school has been burglarized a LOT recently.  It's really horrible.  I don't have any idea how to stop it or slow it down, but my heart goes out to them.  It's a horrible feeling to work as hard as you can to try to help kids only to have people steal your materials for doing that.