The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to get kids truly excited about Shakespeare?

This year, I will be teaching Much Ado About Nothing. It is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I have taught it before with great success. Last year, the school I work at did not have this text, so I taught a brief unit on it via the movie. This year, we finally got the books, and I am excited to teach it. Even MORE exciting, a local repertory theater that specializes in the classics is going to be performing the play throughout this Spring. Could it be better timing? I think not.

However, tickets are about $16 a person. We get less than $10 per student for field trip money, and that is for the whole 10th grade, not just for my class, so I can't very well justify that this money should go towards my field trip, and besides that, that money would barely scratch the surface of paying for my trip, considering that I also have to come up with transportation to and from the theater.

Last year, I got a Target grant and did a similar trip with just my Honors students during an Ibsen unit. It was fantastic. In addition to getting the Target grant, I raised enough money from family and friends to take the students out to dinner before hand too. This meant so much to the students. It was a life changing experience for some of them. I want to see this happen again, but I do not have a grant.

My brilliant idea... spend a week in the beginning of the semester selling the kids on the idea of going on a field trip to see a play and what an excellent way this is to learn about Shakespeare. Get the genuinely excited, both about studying Shakespeare and about going on a field trip. Have them identify some potential sponsors for the trip, then they can write letters to their potential sponsors asking them to sponsor their participation in the trip. It would be a great exercise in persuasive writing, and would make the trip so much more meaningful to them. To do the trip like I really want to do it (with dinner, basically), each student would need to raise about $50. I don't think that is too much.

Now the big question that I am struggling with is.... how do I get them genuinely excited about studying Shakespeare and get their total buy-in on raising $50 to go on this trip? The success of this project really hinges on them being genuinely excited about it, but I am not totally sure how to do that. I have ideas, but none of them are like sure fire going to work. Ideas? Anyone?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hills Like White Elephants!

I am on my way to work- yes, on a Saturday- and the snow covered hills are like white elephants. :)


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Resources for Teachers

This is an article that I wrote about some of the best resources for teachers. If you are a teacher, you may or may not know about some of these.

Very Overwhelmed with All the Planning

At several points in my teaching credential program, I remember them saying things like, "Don't worry... you will never have to do lesson plans this detailed again." I believed that- I truly did. And why shouldn't I? Really, once you start teaching, how often are people looking at your lesson plans, right? Well, at my school, often.

The school I teach at is not traditional by any means. When it comes to compensation, instead of being just paid a solid salary on a step scale like at most schools, we get a salary, but we also are paid bonuses. These bonuses are based on a few things:
- Professional Commitments Outside the Classroom (i.e. I co-chair a committee)
- Student Attendance (paid out at the end of the year if we have over 98% attendance)
- Student Performance (if we make our API goal on the state tests)
- Teaching Performance Reviews

This is, in many ways, a very good thing. It insures that those teachers who really cannot teach worth crap don't just fly under the radar. They either get help or get out. It also insures that no teacher who has been teaching forever keeps getting 70K a year to show movies or just teach through the textbook all year, just because they are "tenured." That really used to drive me crazy. During student teaching, I saw so many teachers who had administrative credentials and masters degrees up the yin yang, so of course they made beaucoup bucks, but they knew that their jobs were secure, so they got lazy and barely taught, while teachers who worked really hard made crap, just because they were new. That made me crazy. I feel like this is a good balance between the two, but it creates a lot of stress.

The largest portion of this, and most stressful, comes from the teaching performance reviews. Twice each semester, a peer (like another teacher) and an administrator come in to observe me and review my teaching. This means that 4 times throughout the course of each semester, which averages to about once a month, I am observed. In these visits, they are basically looking at my lesson plans and watching me teach. I do not find the observation part itself stressful, but I do get stressed about the lessons. My curriculum map (basically my unit plans for the next semester) is due February 4th. In my head, I basically know where I want to go. I even have the standards I am going to cover and the big ideas I am aiming for filled in to my curriculum map, but the daily lesson plan part I am so much better at just feeling out as I go. I could very easily tell you all the pedagogy behind why I do what I do, but when I am being observed, it is not about telling, it is about showing... with a beautifully crafted lesson plan.

In short... I don't even have my first unit plan written for the week we come back. I basically know what we are doing, but I have none of it figured out on a daily basis. It does not help that I am a perfectionist and I easily get stuck on things. I have been so focused on getting my BTSA stuff done (which it finally is), that I haven't spent much time planning. Now when I think about buckling down and doing it, I just want to cry. I want it to be done SO much; I just don't want to do it. Does that make any sense?

So what am I doing? Planning like crazy? No, I'm watching Little Einsteins with Vinny and writing in my blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Different kids, different strokes, I guess...

So, right now, there are classes going on at my school, I just am not teaching one. It is the equivalent to what summer school is in most districts, but ours is during winter. The kids are making up classes that they failed, for the most part (some make up classes when they get a D, because we are a college prep school, so that is not technically passing). The Fall semester, 29 of my students did not pass (although only 11 of those were actually Fs; the rest were Ds), which means that they needed to make up my class. Since I was not teaching this session, a colleague in my department is teaching the class. Ryan is the only male teacher in the English department, and from what I have gathered from my students last year, our teaching styles are like night and day. This is not a bad thing- we are just different.

Apparently, different was exactly what some of these students needed, particularly the male students, because Ryan just sent me a video of these students giving Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech." While it is true that they were just reciting it, I am still hugely impressed. That is some pretty difficult language, and he got them up there on a microphone, clearly enunciating (for the most part), and really trying to get the point across. This may not sound like a huge accomplishment, but some of the students he got up there I barely ever heard speak the first semester (hence the fact that they failed). One of the students I really wondered if he could verbally string together more than one sentence.

I guess that some kids just need different things to succeed, and Ryan brought those different things to the table.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you their speech:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taking Advantage of Time Off

I will admit it- one of the things I love best about being a teacher is the time off! I love that I get to travel during these times, sleep in, and spend time with my family. This past weekend, Vinny and I took a little adventure to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit some family. I tried for the past few months to figure out how to come up with the money for plane tickets, but it just didn't happen, so we drove.

Driving 6.5 hours alone with a 3 year old is not an easy thing to do, but I will admit that it is getting easier. Vinny is actually a rather amiable travel companion. He sings along to the radio and gets excited about seeing things like windmills on the hillsides. On the way home yesterday, I realized that Vinny has been to Arizona 8 times since he was born (6 and a half of those trips were by car, by the way)! That's pretty cool. This is the beauty of only working 180 days a year.

On a side note, I did some editing of the blog page. I am still playing with it. I did add Google ads, but I promise, that is the only advertisements you will see on this page. I don't know why, but there is something about bloggers who just constantly endorse products in their blog posts that really bugs me. If I want to read your blog, it is because I am interested in what you have to say about life... not about some product that someone is paying you to review.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where does the time go?

Don't you hate when you have those days when you think you are going to get so much done, but before you know it the day is over and you have barely accomplished a fraction of what you thought you would get done? That was today.

I am on break from school right now. (What? In January? Yes, in January. Our school is connected to Los Angeles Mission College, so we have a similar schedule. We get a summer and winter break, during both of which there are shortened sessions of school for students to take college classes or make up credits. A few teachers teach for extra pay, but I took it off.) However... today I had a busy day planned. Unfortunately, being on break, Vinny and I have gotten used to "sleeping in," which usually means he wakes me up sometime around 7 or 7:30a.m. This morning, I set an alarm for 7 a.m, but I rolled over a blink of an eye later and Vinny was peacefully sleeping next to me and it was 8:21a.m. Oh no! I rushed to get myself and Vinny ready, but we didn't even make it out the door until 9am, so Vinny was half an hour late to preschool.

I arrived a bit late to my allergy shot appointment (I am going through immunotherapy to hopefully stop getting so many sinus infections), but I thought it would be okay, since I called to tell them. It was okay, but I waited half an hour for the nurse to be available to give me the shots. Then I have to wait 20 minutes to make sure I don't die. As I am sitting there in the waiting room after the shot, I am starting to feel a tight chest and a little lightheaded (typical asthma attack for me). I think through my "rush out the door" morning and realize I haven't taken any of my 4 allergy/asthma control medications. When the nurse calls me back in to check my reactions, I tell him I am having some trouble breathing, explain that I forgot to take my medications, and ask him for a Claritin. Instead, he gets the allergist, who walks in with a giant needle, says, "I'm going to give you some epinephrine; it should help," and jabs it into my arm. I screamed. Oh my Lord! I was not prepared for that! I get 3 shots a week, but NONE of them feel like that! Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Then he says, "Did that help?" Sure enough, I could breathe. "Good", he says, "You scared me when you screamed." "You scared me with that shot," I replied, "You didn't tell me it was going to hurt! The allergy shots don't hurt." "Different medicine," he says and then explains that I might feel a little jittery for a while, and off I go.

A little jittery? You know those cartoons where a character sticks his finger in a light socket and walks away shaking with volts of electricity running through his veins. Yeah... that was me for the next several hours.

I got to school in time for my meeting with my BTSA mentor, but with no time to finish anything else that I had wanted to get done in preparation for next semester (unit plans, going through materials for the Spring musical, etc.).

The next 5 hours were spent crunching through BTSA. Oh BTSA. It stands for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment. It's a fancy name for what really is a bunch of paperwork and meetings to prove that you can teach. Why? Because in the state of California, after 1 year of intense classes on teaching strategies and methods and whatnot, along with a year of student teaching, you only get a "preliminary" credential. You then get 5 years to go through BTSA or another similar program to show that you really can do this. It's really nothing new, just more of the same stuff from the preliminary credential program, which you are now showing you have applied. It is not at all hard, but it is very, very time consuming. It takes 2 years. The first checkpoint when I have a huge packet of papers due is in February. This all has to be done alongside your mentor. Fortunately, my mentor is my department chair and good friend, which makes it so much easier, but it is still a nightmare. We spent 5 hours working on it (okay, maybe there was some small talk in between), but we didn't even finish everything I had left, and I had already completed like 80% of what needed to be done before I came in today.

As I walked out of school today, I could not believe how little I had gotten done, yet the clock on the marquee flashed 4:12p.m.

Where does the time go?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Welcome to My Blog

I have always found that the stuff that happens in my life and in my classroom is rather interesting, and the stories I share when I go out to dinner with my friends often lead to dropped jaws, so I thought, "Hey, I should start a blog about it!" And so I have...

I am a full-time high school teacher at a charter school in the L.A. area. I teach 5 classes of English, one class of theater arts, and one class we call advisory, which is basically a class about helping these teenagers survive and thrive in high school. I absolutely love my job, and I know it is what God created me to do. Nowhere have I found more satisfaction in life than I do in teaching these wonderful kids!

I am also a mom. I have a precious three-year old son named Vinny. He is the light of my life. Although I love my job, I have to admit there are times I just live for weekends and breaks which I get to spend with Vinny. He is incredibly clever and delightfully entertaining.

I have titled my blog "140 kids" because in any given semester I have about 140 students on my roster, and in many ways I feel like they are all "my kids." There is something about the bond between a teacher and her students. It is not exactly like parenthood, but there are many similarities. I have caught myself many times saying something along the lines of "One of my kids ________" or "Oh yeah, my kids really like that..." It's hard not to refer to them as "mine." Sometimes, I think that this is an unfair comparison for me to make, because far more work goes into parenting than goes into teaching. When you are a parent, you get the good, bad, and the ugly, and there is no office to send them down to when things get really bad; however, you really can't be a great teacher unless you care about them as individuals and take some personal responsibility for their learning and overall well-being. In that way, yes, they are all my kids.

In short, I teach 140 mostly minority students in a high-poverty school, while also trying to be a good wife and mom. If you think this will be interesting to read about, then please, follow my blog! I promise never to sell out to shameless product endorsements for money.