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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Teaching Sick Sucks...

A bit about me that I don't totally love to talk about is that I do not have the world's greatest health. A lot of the time, I am fine, but when I get sick... I get really sick. This is why they recommend that asthmatics get the flu shot.

I got the flu shot this year- both of them in fact- but I still got the flu. I can probably thank the flu shot for the very short-lived cycle I got; however, when the flu had gone away, I stayed congested. That is unfortunately just how it works with me. I am an asthmatic with bad allergies and thus nasal polyps that prevent my head from doing what it is supposed to do with congestion... as in, clear out.

So... two days later, the sinus infection kicked in. Sinus infections totally suck. I get several a year. It is like your whole head is just full of this intense pressure, and you could blow your nose and blow your nose over and over again, and it would still keep coming. It is awful. The pressure makes it so hard to think straight, it really makes me a cranky person, and I know I am not as good of a teacher when I am like this.

Then the really crappy part kicks in. I go to the doctor and get an antibiotic. It starts to clear. This SHOULD be the good part, right? It's not, because then it starts to finally loosen up and drain, but that part makes my asthma act up and my bronchials get all inflamed. It's not like a "Help, I'm suffocating," asthma attack, but it is like your chest just constantly being squeezed, and like you can never catch a full breath, and sometimes, I just start coughing and totally can't stop. One can only take so many steroids to make this better. This weekend, urgent care loaned me a nebulizer to take home, and that has been helping, but I can only use it like every few hours. My mom always feels so bad for me (because she is my mom) and said yesterday, "That must be a scary feeling," and at this point, it is not so much scary, because it is not like I am suffocating, but it is just really annoying and makes it hard to focus.

I know this is affecting my teaching. I know because I just started teaching my Holocaust unit, and this is one of my favorite units to teach and I was really excited about all the new stuff I am trying with it this year, but now I am just not feeling enthusiastic. I'm just feeling cranky and ready to move on, but not even for any good reason. I think being sick has a lot to do with it.

Well, here's hoping that I start feeling better and get the old me back quickly. I would really like to feel passionate about my job again.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Do parents really not know?

A friend of mine on Facebook made a comment today that really got my goat. She said she "hates when teachers play the 'poor us' card. There isn't enough paper for the kids so she made copies on the backs of real estate brochures. Really??"

I cannot tell you how insulting I find this. I am not trying to say "poor us," but why not use recycled paper? She was talking about her son's teacher, not me, but I make copies on the back of fliers and brochures all the time. I have a couple of close friends who work for companies who are totally willing to give me one-sided copies and I love having them to use. I only get like 5000 sheets a year from the school. I have 130 English students and 41 drama students. Even if you just count the English students, that is like 38 pages per student per year. There are 180 days in the school year. Give me a break. If I didn't get recycled paper, I would be buying it all the time. Besides that, we do things like "Thinking Maps" all the time at our school, and the students like having the unlined paper to write on. They couldn't care less that there is an advertisement for a basketball tournament on the back.

Again, I am not trying to say "poor teachers," because in many ways we get a sweet deal with getting a lot of days off, but I also am at work almost 12 hours every day, and then at home working on stuff until all hours of the night about 20% of the school year. Being a good teacher involves a lot of creative supplies. You think kids like just learning from a textbook? They don't. Creative projects involve supplies. These supplies require things that the school doesn't always pay for, and I actually work for a really great school who provides a lot in the way of creative supplies, but still there are things we just end up buying. Last week I spent like $30 just on envelopes for the letter project. I knew a teacher last year who was going to be doing a dissection project in biology and she almost had to buy her own paper towels for the kids to clean up because they would only give her two packs. Luckily, our awesome principal stepped in and made sure she got them, but this is just the kind of thing that I am talking about.

Parents expect so much of us... your child is getting copies. How can you complain about what they are on?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Work Fast Mode

Tonight I need to go into work fast mode. My Honors class is now doing the Shakespeare letter assignment. (They were finishing a romantic poetry unit the past two weeks). Tonight, I have their 27 letters to read and comment on. My unit working out depends on them getting comments on their letters no later than Friday morning. That gives me tonight and tomorrow.

In addition, my regular classes (101 students) turned in their final drafts of the letters last week as they mailed out 5 in envelopes to potential sponsors. I started grading them over the weekend and have kept up with it throughout the week, and I actually am in a pretty good place with that. I have 24 of them left to grade. Since I do not comment at this point (except in a few instances), but rather just circle numbers on the rubric and calculate the grade, it moves rather quickly. Under normal circumstances, I could get through them in about an hour or so. I really need to get through these by Friday too, because I have realized throughout grading them, that about 25% of my students did not take the letter as seriously as I needed them to and thus are scoring less than 100/200. In a college prep school, and with my standards for college prep students, this is not acceptable. The students have come to understand that this sort of performance on any culminating assessment will not stand, and there will be a re-do assignment. I have already created the rewrite assignment to give the necessary students on Friday, and then they will get one week to do the rewrite for an updated grade. This means I need to have them all graded and ready to return by Friday.

Now here is the really scary part. Both my administrator and my peer reviewer are coming in to observe me this week. I am not worried about the lessons. I am worried about MY WALLS. They are EMPTY! Okay, that may seem like a crazy thing to be worried about, if you don't teach at my school, but my school is HUGE on optimal use of the walls. I just switched units, so they are empty right now. I need to post student work (I plan to place photocopies of the best Shakespeare letters all around my life-size Shakespeare poster), the standards for this unit, examples of using thinking maps in my teaching, essential questions (big broad ideas to drive the instruction) for the unit, and vocabulary for the unit, as a bare minimum. In addition, I also usually put inspirational quotes that relate to the topics we are studying and some related pictures or images, like the covers of the texts we are studying at the time. I have some of it in my file cabinet from last year, but I revised this unit like crazy since last year, so a lot of it needs to be created from scratch. I ideally need to do this before school tomorrow, because my administrator could be coming in at any time.

There is only so much time before school however, and I also didn't get through all the copies I need to after school today, so I am going to have to get up really early tomorrow.... but I am probably going to end up going to bed REALLY late tonight.

Uh oh... this is starting to sound like a night that may not involve sleep. Considering that I got the flu Monday and didn't go to work yesterday and am still sort of getting over this all (probably in the process of getting a sinus infection), I am not sure how well this is going to work out. It is probably going to result in me sleeping a whole heck of a lot this weekend again.

Ugh. This has been one long week.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The GREAT Man Behind this Woman

We hear so much in society about that there is a great woman behind every man, and, well, admit it, it is usually true, but today's entry is about the great man who stands behind me.

It has been a long week (always is when there is a project due). It was one of those weeks where I run purely on caffeine and determination, staying up until the wee hours reading papers, and crashing by the end of the week. I also am not feeling very well. My allergies/asthma are bothering me, and some other stuff as well, nothing big, just feeling under the weather. Or, I suppose, given the fact that this is somewhat weather-induced yuckiness, perhaps I should say I am just feeling the weather.

Anyhow, so last night, I accidentally fell asleep with Vinny while reading him a story at 9pm. I was tired from a very long week of late nights. This morning, I resisted the beautiful sunshine (knowing that it is post-rain and would be full of things guaranteed to make my eyes watery and my nose itch), and did my taxes at the kitchen table, a daunting, yet rewarding task (we are getting money back... yea!), and then dealt with two different contractors from our home warranty company (they didn't believe the first one, I guess) coming to assess our need for a new water heater (very needed). After lunch with the in-laws, I came home just pooped.

Anyhow, I said this was about my wonderful husband, and it is. After lunch, I decided to nap with Vinny. During college, afternoon naps were a regular part of my routine, but they haven't been in a long time, so this was out of the ordinary. While I was napping, wonderful husband decided to finish our dresser project. We've been refinishing this beautifully expensive, heavy, quality dresser that we got for a great deal but needed updating. It was an amazingly longer project than I anticipated. I had hoped to finish it while I was on break in January, but I don't have very strong wrists, and sanding takes a lot out of me, so it didn't get done and then I got busy with school. Marc has done so much on it though, that it was almost done last weekend. Today, Marc finished the final coat of paint and it looks BEAUTIFUL! Seriously, professional! I can't wait to put it in my bedroom.

Now, I am lounging in my jammies while Marc picks up Palermos and Red Box. I have a wonderful man.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's just different here...

It is hard to explain what it is like working in the community where I work. It is not something I know how to get across, because to be honest, it is not something I understand. I just know that it is different.

You know the end of the school year, when you can barely get kids to focus on anything because they are so absorbed with signing yearbooks? That didn't happen at our school. Our school's yearbook staff couldn't sell any of them, and they were not that expensive. This is just one example.

I just received a copy of our school's WASC report which we worked all Fall to compile. It has information in it about the school's community. Do you know what the median annual family income is? $11,450

You may think it is not true, since it is hard to imagine getting by on that, but a lot of our kids share houses with several families and struggle for every dollar. It makes me appreciate things I have never appreciated before. Things that probably seems so simple to you are not simple to them. Like the mail.

I am doing this Shakespeare letter project right now that, if you have been reading, you probably have read a lot about by now. Although the project's main goal is to get money to take them on a field trip to see a Shakespeare play in a professional theater, the goal is also to give them experience writing business letters, as well as practicing their persuasive writing, both of which are 10th grade standards in the state of California.

They have been working on persuasion since they began high school, but the idea of a formal business letter was a completely foreign concept to them. Do you want to know how foreign it is? Today's lesson was addressing envelopes. Yes, lesson, and yes, it was needed. We spent over 30 minutes addressing envelopes today, and most of them really did not know how to do it; I am still getting emailed questions. They don't know the difference between the main address and the return address and put them in the wrong place in several instances. They don't know where to put an apartment number. They don't always know to abbreviate California. I am not kidding.

These are not dumb kids. They are incredibly innovative students with often brilliant ideas. I do not know why addressing envelopes is not something that they have done before, but they have not. They also didn't know how much postage stamps cost or even where to get them. I took orders today and they gave me their cash so that I could go to the post office and buy stamps.

People... appreciate what you have and the life in which you were raised.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kids are kids... Even Teens!

So, if you have never worked with high school students before, I bet you think that they are far too cool to go crazy over plastic beads, laffy taffy, and nerds. Right?

This semester, we are trying to do grammar Tuesdays, focusing on one specific serious grammar issue each Tuesday. I wish there were a more interesting way to do grammar, but certain things like irregular verbs just can only be taught with practice. So, practice we must.

In an effort to make it more fun, I have decided I will add games, giveaways, whatever it takes. So, since today is Mardi Gras, and my family (okay, my husband's family) is Cajun, I decided to have Grammar Gras today! Giving a correct answer in class won you a bead toss, and then when it came time for some independent practice, I put on zydeco music and wandered the classroom with a bag of Wonka candy.

I am not sure I have ever accomplished so much in one 35-minute period. We got through 8 irregular verb activities as a class, then re-wrote two full paragraphs in class. Although they usually try to chit chat as they work, motivated by candy... they wrote furiously hoping that their hard work and correct answers would earn them a Laffy Taffy, some Bottle Caps, or a box of Nerds. Yeah... amazing.

Okay, obviously candy as a teaching motivational tool cannot be overused, probably clashes with the school's universal nutritious meal program, and would not work if done every day or even every Tuesday, but it worked for today, and that made me happy. :-)

Is it sad that I cannot wait until April when I get to teach homophones? I've got the best Veggie Tales video to share. Next Tuesday is sentence fragments. Now, how to make that interesting?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The best/worst part of my job.

I love reading student essays. I hate reading student essays. I know that makes no sense. I love reading like the first 10... and occasionally when I find a really great one sometime after that I love it too, but sometime around essay number 25, I start to go a bit batty.

They just all start to sound the same, and the grammar mistakes start to make me crazy. When they are English learners with serious issues (like the student who just said "I will be very thanking full"), that actually doesn't bother me, because I can see how they would make the mistake, and I know how hard they try, and I am happy to assist. What makes me crazy is all the little typos and careless errors made by students who know better. The left out is. The extra the. I know it sounds crazy, and at first it doesn't bother me, but the more papers I read, the crazier I get.

I have 70 papers left to read out of 100. It feels like I have been reading essays for days, so I do not know why I have only gotten through 30 of them. Probably because I really, sincerely want them to do significantly better on these revisions, so I am spending a lot of time commenting on each. Nonetheless, the thought of reading 70 more of these is making me crazy.

If it were a different situation, I would space them out better and give myself a couple of weeks, but my lesson plan for this week depends on them all getting their papers back by Wednesday/Thursday (period 1 on Wednesday, period 4,5,6 on Thursday), so that they can spend some time in class revising them for perfection, and then we can actually mail these suckers on Friday. This means that I must, must, must get through several more papers tonight. I don't want to pull an all-nighter on Wednesday night.

Ugh... hopefully, it will all be worth it. I know that they are excited about this project, and they are excited about the possibility of seeing Shakespeare live. That excites me, so if I can just keep that bottom line in mind, I can get through this.

Which reminds me.... some of my students are short on ideas for people to send their sponsorship letters to (I asked them each to come up with 5). If any of you would like to receive a letter, send me an email at I promise the students will not stalk you or anything (that student is no longer in my class anymore. j/k); they will just send you a letter trying to persuade you to be a $10 sponsor of their field trip.

Bleh... enough wasting time blogging. Back to the papers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In the spirit of Valentine's Day

So, after a very nice night out with my husband, I have come home and decided to get nice and intimate... with my laptop and 100 emailed student essays. :-)

Reading student essays can be... maddening. (Did you think I was going to say inspiring, hopeful, encouraging, edifying, or something like that? It can be those things too, but by paper 25, it is usually just maddening.) This is particularly true when they make grammar mistakes that just don't make any sense. I just read a paper in which she used no commas whatsoever, but she somehow put apostrophes in the strangest places. In quoting a journalist she writes," 'quote quote quote yada yada yada,' say's Sam Allis." Huh? Why does that get an apostrophe? Then she said, "The opportunity to go on this field trip make's me think..." Again- why?

So, in trying to be humorous, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I wrote her this note:
As far as grammar goes, I think you are a little apostrophe happy and a little comma shy. Meet my friend comma. He is a very nice punctuation mark, whom I believe you could have a great relationship with. Spending too much time with a punctuation mark like apostrophe cannot possibly be good for you. (See comments in the attached file for specific places).

Am I dork? If you were a student, would you think I was cute or crazy?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Great day today!

I was so wishing that an administrator or someone would walk in during one of my classes today. Everything went so wonderfully! My students were writing their "Sponsor me to go to a Shakespeare play" letters, and they are putting so much effort into them. Some of the students wanted me to read their letters like every other paragraph. Some of these were kids who normally avoid me like the plague and hope I don't notice that they are doing nothing. I hope they can all raise the $50 each they need to go. It's funny... some of them have no clue who is an decent person to request a sponsorship from an who is not. One girl wanted to ask the manager at the local McDonald's to sponsor her. Too funny.

Then, in my Honors class, the students had a totally engaging discussion about Wordsworth's poetry, and I just watched and took notes. It wonderful...

During lunch, some of my students from last year came and brought me pizza and cake. It was one of their friends' birthday, so they brought me leftovers. Isn't that sweet?

My play production class had our first rehearsal today for Beauty and the Beast, which was a blast. I have such wonderful talented students. They are excellent singers and actors. I even got a great handful of new freshmen that I didn't know I was getting. One super tall kid seems like he is going to be very creative. I gave them a giant bag of cloth scraps and told them each to pick a piece and decide what fictional character they are and what the cloth is (i.e. "I am Aladdin and this is my magic carpet"). The tall kid gets this piece of white snowflake cloth and drapes it around him and says, "I am the Queen of Narnia and this is my gown!" Fun stuff!

Did I mention I love my job?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesdays are Just Long...

Tuesdays are a "shortened day" at my school. This means that I still get to see all 5 of my academic classes (English), but only for 35 minutes each. I also have a class called "advisory" that only happens on Tuesdays for about 45 minutes. Then school gets out a 1:20. That's when we go to meetings. Today it was first a faculty meeting, then a professional development activity, then a meeting with all the 10th grade teachers.

Although it is supposedly a "shortened" day, but for me, by 1:20, because I have already taught all my classes, it feels like 3:30. By the time the meetings end, I am so exhausted, I usually just go home. So, actually, I suppose, I get out of there earlier on Tuesdays than other days... but it doesn't feel that way.

However, recently, our family has had to make some changes. My husband, Marc, works for an afterschool care program that has many sites throughout the local area. He was a director at a site about 30 miles from our house, and this particular site has a preschool at it, so we enrolled our son there this past Fall for the employee discount and because it is actually a great school. Then, just before I went on winter break, they moved Marc to a site near our house, which does not have a preschool, and even if it did, I don't know that I would want to pull Vinny out mid-year. This has created a bit of a transportation nightmare.

The school I work for is 17 miles from our house... the opposite 17 miles away from our house. Because Marc has to close the site he is at, we have to be creative about getting Vinny home every day. We have family that can help a lot, but on Tuesdays, I sort of feel like it is my duty, since I leave earlier. So... when I left school today at 4pm, I made the 47 mile trek to Vinny's school and the 30 mile trek home. By then, I felt like I wanted to fall over I was so tired.

Now there is a giant stack of papers facing me and I don't even want to pull them out of the bag. I'm tired. I want to veg and go to bed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sweet Reunion

As much as I was dreading the very, very long day that I had today (left the house at 6:45 a.m., left school at 6:45p.m.), I was really happy to see the kids again. I don't think I realized how much I missed them.

When I was walking down the hall to my classroom, one of my students was like, "Mrs. Mohr! It's so good to see you! I haven't seen you in like a month!" Then his best friend was like, "Oh my gosh, Mrs. Mohr, I love you, I'm so glad you are back." It was very funny.

I have to admit, it really made me feel good to hear, "Wow, I missed this room," and "Mrs. Mohr! You didn't teach ESY, I missed you!" Even better, as my kids set personal goals for this semester today, I was so happy to see them writing things like, "I want to improve my reading level up to grade level," and things like, "I want to write an essay without mistakes." I really do truly love these kids. They make me proud. It's like the same kind of pride I feel over my own son.

The icing on the cake, at the end of my 12 hour day, was coming home to log on to the online classroom of my Honors class. It's like an extended classroom. There are forums for bringing up issues, helpful links, videos, and a chat. During 2nd period today, I suggested that anyone who wants to study for the test tomorrow log on to chat and pose potential test questions for each other. They chose 7pm. I logged on a 8:30. There were still 8 people on, and they were having an excellent discussion about why the Holocaust should still be taught in schools today.

Ah... this is why I do this.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

First Day Back to Work

So, over the past few days, I have been thinking to myself, "How in the world am I going to return to the go-go-go from 6am-6pm (or later) pace that I kept up last semester?" I was starting to feel like I wasn't even sure I could drag myself out of bed before 7am. Seriously. Perhaps it is because I took on so many huge projects this break (moving around my house to make way for a new roommate, refinishing a bedroom set, reorganizing of many cabinets/drawers/etc.), that I just found myself rather unprepared to return to my real life.

Nonetheless, I set my alarm for quarter to six this morning, hit snooze several times, but somewhat forced myself into the shower and out the door by quarter to seven. My drive to work was actually somewhat pleasant, and I rather enjoyed my morning cup of coffee. I went to school, reorganized all the desks and made my way downstairs for the professional development activities. Before I knew it, it was noon.

Of course, Murphy's law, my son chose the week I have to return to work to get sick, so my husband and I had no choice but to split the day to stay home with Mr. Ear Infection. He stayed home in the morning and I came home for the afternoon. Part of me was glad to ease back into work with a half day, but the other part of me was sad not to get to spend a few hours in my classroom getting more prepared. My desk is still covered in boxes and papers. In addition, I have to admit, as I watched a car full of my colleagues drive off to have a leisurely lunch, I was a bit jealous. It is so rare that we ever get to go out to lunch together, since our lunches during school are so short and mostly full of kids or work of some kind, those days when we do get to go out are really nice. I remember during our last professional development day in the fall, somehow it ended up that literally the entire high school staff ended up at this great Mexican restaurant in town. It was wonderful. Oh well... maybe next time....

Tomorrow I get to see my wonderful teenagers again. Fantastic. They are not nearly as cute as my three-year-old, but they sure are ten times more fascinating.