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updates for 05.02.2012

3 new posts today

When hope is all you have... and it ain't enough.

There were more violent incidences at my school today. 16 students were arrested. 15 for one incident, 1 for an unrelated incident shortly before. I've been reading the news stories and hearing outsiders analyze our school's problems, sitting as they come up with nothing but euphemisms and platitudes. Even as an insider, it's hard to see where the waves meet the shore, where the storm stops. If you go to www.fox8live.com or www.nola.com, you'll see that, of the  top headlines, about half concern recent violent crimes. One of my roommates came home tonight and checked on me (she'd heard about today's melee on the news) and also told me that two hours ago there was another shooting, claiming two more lives, just five minutes' drive away. I love this city. It's obviously much different than the city I grew up loving as I visited here once a year or less, now that I've immersed myself in its layers. There's so much more to know and love that you don't absorb as a visitor. Similarly, there's so much more by which to be disturbed and saddened. The problem with crime in New Orleans isn't new. It is a terribly violent year thus far (more so than last year), but the nature of these crimes shocks no one. And that may be the saddest part - the fact that so many of ours are being claimed and so few of us are batting an eyelash. Something has to give... right? Eventually, it must stop? There's no real way for me to talk about what's going on at my school without talking about what's going on in New Orleans. There is nothing happening at my school that isn't also happening in the rest of this city - in every part of it, to be sure. I am hopeful that we can end this year safer than we started it. I have hope that we can make it to the end of the year with no more arrests, no more injuries. I have hope that my students won't get caught up in the violence - won't become peripheral victims of more meaningless crimes. I have that hope, but that hope won't blanket our community and protect us from the worst of our elements. There is something simmering below us, something that will erupt because we won't do anything but let it sit. It breaks my heart to know that too many more people will be caught in what boils over.

This Is (Not) A Test!

Mariah Carey once sang, “if it’s over, please let me know” and I share her sentiments today. My 125 students took the 8th Grade Mississippi State Science today. It is a 60-question, multiple-choice exam consisting of questions from 30 objectives spanning Inquiry (Scientific Methods), Earth and Space Science, Life Science, and Physical Science. Since this relatively new test is not as high-stakes as Math and ELA, it was difficult at times to get others as invested in the test as I was. My personal feelings about standardized testing aside, I worked hard to invest my students in performing well on the test throughout the year.  Overall, I definitely think my students did better this year than last year. Without a doubt, I did a much better job of preparing my students in terms of general instruction as well as test-taking strategies.  Additionally, it helped that they had two amazing, kick-butt science teachers (TFA) in 7th grade. Honestly, most adults would struggle to score proficient in the test, but I’m confident that 90% of my kids tried their best. Can you answer these questions? *** 1. Which chemical equation is balanced to show that mass is conserved during the reaction? A. Na + Cl2 --> NaCl                       B.  2H2O2 --> 2H2O + O2 C.   CH4 + O2 --> CO2 + 2H2O       D. AgNO3 + MgCl2 --> AgCl + MgNO3 2. Which of these describes the lithosphere and the asthenosphere? A. The lithosphere is rigid and immovable, and the asthenosphere is hot and flowing. B. The asthenosphere is rigid and immovable, and the lithosphere is hot and flowing. C. Both are hot inner layers of earth capable of bending and moving. D. Both are hard and rigid layers of earth close to the surface. Unfortunately, my students who struggle to read typically don’t perform well, despite the test being untimed. To be truthful, though, I wouldn’t be satisfied if a student scored highly on a test, but lacked the literacy skills to lead a productive life in the future, which is far more important to me. I won’t deny that it’s ludicrous in many ways for me, as a teacher, to be professionally judged when I have some students who can’t read or do 7-3 = 4, but I’ll take one for the team- I have my degree, and I don’t take it personally. I’d rather take a hit to my teaching “value” then blame anything on my children who may lack some skills. I simply look forward to the day I can work towards ensuring kids have said skills to begin with, so the blame game for failure becomes largely irrelevant. Testing musings aside, the week leading up to this test was fun and I wanted to share a few short anecdotes. Overall, I feel like I've found my niche at my school, and I truly am enjoying the kids and my colleagues despite (because of?) the typical middle school craziness. It's very interesting to think about next steps at this point as it involves many conflicting thoughts and emotions... anyway: Whining or Winning? Many teenage girls like to complain…about everything…all the time and I have one girl who constantly complains about having to work hard in my class and for bothering her when she tries to sleep in the front after lunch. However, she’s extremely bright (among highest scores on mid-year exam) despite the attitude, so whenever she complains I can quickly feign surprise and it’s always heartening to see her working vigorously less than 30 seconds later like clockwork. Last week, she declared that she wasn’t going to visit when she goes off to high school. No sooner had I found that amusing then another girl, who has gone from 7th grade trouble maker to 8th grade high honor student, told her: “girl, please. You know you’re going to come back next year and Mr. B will be the first teacher you visit- quit playin’!” I couldn’t hold back a smile :)   Best Question Ever! In that same precocious class, I had a very quiet, studious boy start asking me questions about Harvard (“I heard you have to get a 34 on your ACT!?”). He had started on a portfolio project in his computer class, and was researching colleges. While I can put college on the radar for most of my kids, it’s not often that I get to have high school level conversations about different opportunities with them. I can’t tell you how happy I was when he asked: “Mr. B, would you mind writing a letter of recommendation for me? I can keep it and change the date for when I need it, right?” Awww! Yes!   Run A Mile In My Shoes! I’ve also continued to see progress from the boy in my homeroom who struggled mightily and constantly sought attention since I attended his track meet last month. How won two awards at the Athletic Banquet and I’m so proud of how he has grown up. We still have some work to do (he ran down the hall way Monday after taking a classmates shoes), but he’s surely on his way there.   All In The Family! I love to see collaboration, and my school fostered such an environment when we had “rotations” where the students stay in their homeroom while the core subject teachers rotate to deliver 30-minute test prep sessions. We are assisted by the Social Studies and Elective teachers. I taught math last year, but my principal let me teach science this year since I’m also tested.  Honestly, I enjoyed teaching math but it was nice to do some interactive science lessons instead this time around. One of the coolest things I saw was that some of my colleagues got into the lesson and where working alongside the kids when we played a review game. Since science is often in the shadow of math/English, it did wonders for investment for my students to see some of their favorite teachers engaging in the lesson and even competing with them! Seventh Heaven? I gave my students a diagnostic "quiz" last week to reassess their growth in mastery since we began reviewing for the state test. All of my classes responded well except for my 7th Period, in which class no student has earned an A on their report card all year. They told me I was negative all the time and my expectations were too high. It was disappointing to hear this feedback, but I quickly lost all empathy when the class plotted to cheat. Their plan involved having a student go ballistic, so I would talk to him out in the hall and stealing my answer sheet or another student's test. Unfortunately, the distraction worked temporarily, but there poor execution led to them having to retake the test, which resulted in that class having the lowest scores...again. I won't go on about this, but know that I could. Answers: ***1. B 2. A check out the test link for longer, tougher questions!

May? May!

I can't believe it's May.  I can't believe I've made it this far alive. The fact that there are only 15 more days of school left doesn't make it any easier to come to school, though. Some anecdotes:

  • I've started playing a "90's pop" playlist on www.jango.com during class, and my kids won't admit it, but they love it. "Play them Spice Girls again!"
  • It's STILL not acceptable that I don't have a boyfriend.
  • My kids are climbing the walls, and I'm doing the best I can to keep them in their seats and relatively quiet.
  • Since my kids are just working in centers on review activities most days, I'm pretty bored.
  • Now is not a good time to ask me if I want to be a teacher for the rest of my life.
  • "Miss, you black!" (apparently I'm black because I bring snacks to school and really enjoyed "Think Like a Man")
  • I'm still a first-year teacher, and I'm still not allowed to evaluate my life.
  • So. much. drama. 7th grade girls that spend waaaay too much time togeter = drama.
  • I have to bribe myself to get out of bed in the morning.
  • "Miss, are we going to dissect something in your class?"
My kids are begging me to move up to 8th grade with them.  I guess that's a good thing, but right now I can't imagine teaching some of them for another year.  They're still my babies, though.  I love them more than I ever thought possible, and I'll feel weird having different babies next year. I'm adding to my list of things I'm going to change for next year, and thinking about how I want to structure my class differently.  Right now, I'm thoroughly TFA-ed out.  Just seeing "SWBAT" gives me the heebie-jeebies.

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