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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wow... tired.

It is tech week for Beauty and the Beast. It has been great fun and greatly exhausting all at the same time. Things are really starting to come together, which makes me so, so, so very happy. The students are actually microphoned as of today, which is making me very, very happy. Thanks to my amazing student technical director Steven, we actually pretty much have most of the feedback weirdness issues worked out too. He makes me so proud. He even really sees the lighting as truly an art. He actually thinks about the artistic statement he makes with the lighting in each scene. This kid really, really should get an internship somewhere amazing this summer.

Anyhow... so today I had my classes, a student from CSUN came to observe my teaching, I had parent conferences (that were supposed to be until 6, but I only went for 30 minutes), and then tech rehearsal. I didn't leave until around 6:45. By the time I picked up Vinny from my parents, the poor kid was terribly ready to go. He grabbed my hand before I even made it through the entryway and said, "Hi, Mommy. Let's go." Ugh... I felt bad, but I desperately needed to eat first. I quickly ate and then we took off. I'd love to say we were headed home, but we weren't. We were headed shoppping for all those last minute props and things that I realized today during tech rehearsal were still missing. Bleh... the worst part is, our budget is like frighteningly low. We have to fundraise every penny I spend. I have so much stuff on credit and so little money coming in right now. We freaking better sell some more tickets soon.

So... by the time we got home from all the shopping at 9:00, Vinny still wanted to take a bath and I didn't even get him into bed until like 9:30. I felt so bad. Plus, I feel SO TIRED. Even my tech director today was like, "Mrs. Mohr, you need a break." No kidding. I can't wait for this cruise this weekend. CAN'T WAIT. I really need this break.

One of my students actually asked me today, "So, Mrs. Mohr, what show are we doing next?" Ha! I kind of laughed but sort of cried inside.

Monday, April 26, 2010

College Prep

So, I teach at a "college prep" school. I put that in quotes because it is sort of a misnomer. Yes, we are literally college prep in that we do not offer "general" or "remedial" courses; every class that we teach will apply to a CSU or UC school. We are also college prep in the fact that our diploma requirements are the same requirements that it takes to get in to college, unlike many high schools where you just have to meet the state minimums. Our students do need 2 years of foreign language and a year of art, among all the other college prep requirements. We are also college prep in the way that most of our teachers plan our curriculum; we truly are planning coursework that we believe will prepare the students for college. If a student gets an A or B in my classes, then he or she is truly approaching college readiness (understood that I teach 10th grade), and the A and B students often are demonstrating this already by taking and succeeding in college courses during high school, since we are linked to a nearby junior college.

Why the quotes then? Well, because our student body is not what one typically thinks of when they think of college prep. We are 100% free lunch- no one pays- because we are a high poverty school. Most of the students will be the first in their families to go to college, and many will be the first to even graduate high school. However, even more challenging to this title is the fact that many of them have no intention of going to college. It is actually weird. Some of them are here just because it is the best (not to mention safest) school in the surrounding area. One of my kids actually said to another student today, "You don't want to go to work with your Dad?! Isn't he a mechanic? That's the best job ever!" Now, given, I have a lot of respect for mechanics and am glad they do what they do. I also recognize that modern mechanics can be quite challenging. But the best job in the world? Really? (On a side note, the student who made the comment obviously doesn't know the other student very well. That student would much rather be helping his mother make clothes than helping his father fix cars).

Anyhow... so I am really starting to wonder about the lack of college prep attitude at our school. Not amongst the faculty, but amongst the students. 35% of my students are not passing, at least not by my standards, meaning that they have a D or F. I say they are not passing because, while they will get high school credit with a D, you can't really get into a 4-year college with that.


Wow. I am having a hard time sitting with that number.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Tribute to My School

I honestly don't think I have ever seen a school quite like the one I work at. The students and teachers work harder than anything I have seen before.

Today, I scheduled a set build for my cast and crew to come help build the set for Beauty and the Beast. I'd say a good 70% of my students showed up, despite it being a Saturday. When I arrived, it looked like a school day- no kidding.

One of the history teachers- who also serves as the wrestling coach- was standing outside meeting students to take them to a program he coordinates, Journeys to Excellence, which takes place at Fox Studios every Saturday morning. Not really related to history or wrestling, but he does it because it is an awesome opportunity for these kids.

Inside, the entire senior class was there, along with my department chair, Alicia, because she had assigned the entire senior class (yes, all of them) Saturday school since they were behind on their research papers- because at our school, failure is sort of just not an option. So, there she was, having brought them all breakfast, and there they were, books and laptops spread throughout the conference room, hard at work on their papers.

I wandered upstairs to get some stuff and passed by my friend Brent's room. He teaches 10th grade history and his students also have a research paper due this Spring, but not for several weeks. However, he obviously saw students getting behind on it, because there he was, with a room full of students, all hard at work on laptops, while he busily circulated the room doing his best to help.

A bunch of the juniors were also at school on this sunny Saturday morning. Why? As part of a several week SAT prep class that they had been given the opportunity to take for free.

In addition, several administrators were on campus as well. My boss, primarily to supervise the crazy amount of activity happening that morning, but also other administrators to coordinate the intervention tutoring for students who seem at risk based on low test scores. This is also a weekly occurrence.

As I wandered back into the auditorium, my students had already quickly jumped into the work of painting a village and painting our set extensions. As a few of us pulled out our set pieces from the last show and started trying to figure out how to fit them together, I frantically realized that my awesome, very handy set designer, Anthony, a junior at our school, is no longer in my play production class and I do not know what I am doing without him. A couple of my other boys jumped in to try to help and really stepped up to the plate... plus a few text messages between the students later, Anthony showed up anyway- just to help out.

My tech director, a very smart junior named Steven, fished out a giant ladder and climbed up to the top of the auditorium just to make minor adjustments on the lights. This student is amazing. I don't know the first thing about sound or light equipment, so last semester he learned the whole system- through reading the 1000 page manual. No, I am not kidding. Now he is becoming a perfectionist, making tiny adjustments to get the right amount of light just where he wants it.

A few hours into the set build, a friend of mine who teaches Math wanders in. I was shocked to see her, considering that she had been at school until 11pm the night before, since she also is the ASB adviser and had coordinated the school dance that night. I asked what she was doing there and she just said, "Oh, I just have a lot of work to get done."

Boy is that the understatement of the year. Don't we all? With a good 120-150 students each and grades due on Monday, I think we are all spending our weekend grading papers, which is why it shocked me even more to see how many teachers were spending their morning with students, working on various projects and activities. I just have never seen such a dedicated group of people before in my entire life. As hectic as it can get working at school like this, I honestly feel honored to be a part of it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ah, finally.... DESSERT!

This has been a very long year and a very long semester. There has been so much work and so many challenges, and it has been very overwhelming. Even though this was my second year teaching full-time, and my third year teaching tenth grade, I feel like I had to do so much reinventing and trying new stuff this year.

Now, finally, we are at Shakespeare again. So far, I have ended every teaching year with Shakespeare, and it truly soothes my soul like a cup of hot tea on a cold day. I remember when I got to my Shakespeare unit last year, it just felt so good. There is nothing I love as much as Shakespeare. It is the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake of teaching literature.

It just comes so naturally and so easy. I love talking about and they seem to love learning it. It has been a rough month, but as overwhelmed as I have felt lately, today just feels good. I just love teaching Shakespeare. The kids get so excited when they realize that Shakespeare is actually talking about (GASP).... sex! It is so exciting for me when they laugh at the jokes and get into the story.

Even MORE exciting- we are going to the play in two weeks. I am so excited for them to see it live. For so many of them, it will be their first experience with the magic that is live theater, and I get to be there for it. Oh yea!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Out of Control

10 Things in My Life that are Currently Out of Control

1. My Laundry.
The pile waiting to be folded and put away is taller than me.

2. My Papers and School Paper Work.

It just seems like they never stop coming. I am so behind on things, it is not even funny. I am almost terrified of the repercussions of what is going to happen if I don't get some of these things done... like, yesterday.

3. My Emotions
Seriously... I really feel like I could cry non-stop.

4. My Need for Caffeine.
I admit it. I am a terrible pregnant woman. It is what I crave most.

5. My Desire for a Vacation
I want a vacation like a crackhead wants crack.

6. My Passion for Sour Candy
Especially Rips. Yum.

7. My Waistline.
I am only 18 weeks. Can someone please tell me stomach that my maternity pants are not supposed to fit yet?

8. My Bladder.
This is so much more than any of you wanted to know... but I actually begged my boss for a key to a closer bathroom. He delivered.

9. Apparently, my child.
He got a naught at school Friday for not listening 3 separate times. My child is NOT that child. What is going on here?

10. My lack of energy.
I feel like my internal fuel tank hits empty every night at like 9:30. WTH? This used to be just the beginning. This would explain why everything else is out of control. I have no energy to get anything done.

It has been overwhelming

I am so overwhelmed right now. Beauty and the Beast opens in less than three weeks. 10 week grades are due in a week. I actually don't have millions of papers to grade right now like I usually do, but lately, even one stack feels terribly overwhelming.

I hold my kids to a higher standard than average schools. I don't really let them get away with not turning in assignments... but that means a lot of hunting them down and dealing out discipline, which I honestly don't like to do; I just like the result.

Today was such a Monday. I got to work like 30 minutes early to make copies of the test I was giving today, but I still had to wait like crazy, and by the time it was my turn, of course the machine was jamming to all heck. It seriously would not even suck a single page without getting stuck. Not just a little stuck either... like stick your hand in the machine and wriggle out crunched pieces of paper sandwiched between gears. Ugh. The bell rang while I was down there and I had to send the Chinese teacher up to watch my English class while I finished the copies.

Most of my kids actually passed the test though, which is a good thing, but of course they had a project today that was due and a bunch of them didn't turn it in,
so tomorrow is missing paper hunting day. Ugh.

And so... I need a break. We are going a cruise in two weeks.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gifted Preschooler

What does one do with a gifted preschooler? I know that every mom probably thinks their child is gifted, but from my experience in education, I am pretty sure mine is.

I started realizing he was about 6 months old and had object permanence (when a baby realizes that things are still there even if he cannot see them- like a toy under a blanket). Then, when he was 2 years old, he read a bumper sticker in a seafood restaurant that said, "Eat Fish." I nearly tripped. He can't read phonetically, but he has a lot of sight words- more than I think I realize. Then, I started realizing it this past week when I realized he has perfect pitch. He even can sing back minor intervals. Weird.

He speaks in complete sentences.
He has an affinity for adjectives.
He has perfect pitch (weird, huh?).
He often restates the question in a complete sentence when he answers you.
He knows the 10 basic colors.
He knows all of his shapes.
He not only can sit through a whole story, he prefers books with fewer pictures.
His favorite books are anthologies (not even kidding).
He knows crazy things about how the world works.
He has a least 10 sight words, including his name.

He also shows very psychologically mature traits, like compassion and a sense of justice that goes beyond what most kids his age seem to have, as well as a unique ability to manipulate people. Some of the ways that he thinks that he can manipulate people surprise me that he even thought of them.

So what do I do? He has all the traits that they look for in kindergarten readiness, but he will only be 4 this Fall. Do I look for a school that will admit him early? Do I supplement his education at home? Do I enroll him in music lessons? Do I talk to his preschool teacher about making accommodations for him so that he is more challenged?

Monday, April 5, 2010

I guess I need to start taking some iron

Last time I was pregnant, I was starting to get my energy back around 14 weeks and the nausea had gone away and it was good. Then around 15-16 weeks, I got so tired, it was worse than the first trimester. I kept hearing about this energy rush that comes in the second trimester, but it never came. At 22 weeks, I found out I was anemic, so I started taking extra iron.

It is happening again. I was so hungry today at around 5:00pm, I was shaking, even though I had eaten breakfast and lunch. Now, it is only 7:40, and I am falling asleep I am so tired. The sun is not even all the way down yet. This is ridiculous. I guess it is time to take iron again. I can't handle being this tired. I have so much to do. I didn't even touch any of the papers I brought home over break. I have GOT to do some grading tonight. Bleh.... I honestly just want to crawl in bed right now.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What teacher's nightmares are like

I had a nightmare a few nights ago. Yes, a nightmare. Not just a "bad dream," a nightmare. In the nightmare, I was for some reason helping another teacher who was teaching a class in my classroom during one period, and I kept thinking to myself, "There is stuff I should be doing to get ready for my classes right now," and then before I knew it, the bell rang and it was my turn to teach and I realized I had nothing ready. I panicked and decided I would just teach some poem out of the textbook, since I am starting my poetry unit. Just as I am realizing that, a head administrator, like the boss of my boss, wanders in with some visitor to observe. I then start flipping through the textbook and realize there is no poetry in the text, which is ridiculous, because I know that there is a whole textbook unit of poetry, but I can't seem to find it, so I randomly start teaching the first story I find and decide I will just teach it as an allegory and use it to teach symbolism, which relates to poetry. I start reading the story with them, without even realizing what story it is, and I realize it is the story of the tortoise and the hare. We analyze it as a class, and I feel totally ridiculous. I think I woke up after that.

The dream was truly a nightmare because it had all that accelerated heart beat and stress and sweaty palms and wishing you could just escape somehow and have it all be over. I was really bothered when waking up, but was able to sort of laugh it off the next morning that it was just stress because I was behind on planning my poetry unit. However, the dream stayed with me, which usually doesn't happen to me at all- I seldom remember my dream- and now I know why.

I realized today that the dream was a subconscious reminder and possibly prophetic. I have been incredibly focused on getting my poetry unit ready for my English 10 classes. I start the unit on Monday. I finished the last page of the packet for it at around 7:30p.m. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when I remembered... I have an Honors class. They already learned poetry. I did their poetry unit in February. I have an allegory unit planned (I use that word very loosely, because it is hard to call it "planned" if you see how little I have written for it) on the calendar for my Honors class for the next two weeks. Not only do I not have anything ready for it, I don't even have half the supplies I wanted for it. I somehow completely put it out of my mind until 7:30 tonight. No wonder in my dream I couldn't find a poem and ended up teaching an allegory. DUH! It was obviously a sign.

Perhaps it is also a sign that the story that appeared in my dreams was the story of the tortoise and the hare. I think I am being the hare. I have procrastinated school work like crazy this week, just wanting to enjoy my break somewhat and feeling tired and stuff too, and although I was terribly nervous that I would not be able to finish it in time, part of me believed that I am super woman and would somehow finish it all. When I hit the final save as I finished my poetry packet tonight (which is brilliant and something I feel really good about), I most certainly felt like the smug hare who had somehow finished the race despite several naps (literally) along the way. Then... it hit me... I hadn't finished the race. I had a whole other unit to plan. Boy did I feel sheepish then.

Gosh, what a total geek I am. While I am planning to teach allegory and symbolism, I dream in allegories about my stress. Bleh. I am hardwired to teach English.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cloth Diapers

I plan to use cloth diapers on our next child. When I mentioned the idea the first time, my dad brought up images of his mom dunking and swirling and said that he didn't think it would last. Having done my research, I have found that cloth diapers are much, much different now than when my dad remembers his mom using them on his baby sister. In fact, they are so different that I found myself just engaged in internet research for hours last night. Before I knew it, it was 1:30 in the morning!

There are so many choices, it is really hard to choose which diaper is best. There are the traditional prefolds (closest to what my dad remembers), which are the cheapest. Except people don't pin them anymore. They put diaper covers with velcro or snaps on over them to hold them on. Looks pretty easy. Plus, with today's washing machines, you don't have to dunk or swirl, just dump the poop. Then there are there are all-in-one diapers, which are basically just like disposable diapers, only you throw them in the washing machine. They are definitely the easiest to use. They look great, but they are really expensive, and a lot of mom reviews seem to suggest that the traditional prefolds are more absorbent. Plus, people say they take a long time to dry. Then there are pocket diapers, which are like all-in-ones, but the absorbent part is a liner that pulls out. Considering that you still have to wash the cover every time, I don't really see the point, other than that maybe they dry faster. There is so much more that I could explain, but I won't. I'm sure you would be bored.

Ultimately, I think I want some of both. I want some prefolds and covers, and I want some all-in-ones. I can't seem to find the all-in-ones I want any where that I can register at, but realistically, I will probably be better off buying them on eBay anyway. They are so expensive, and the good all-in-ones come in different sizes, so people do sell them when their kids outgrow them, so this is definitely the cost effective way to cloth diaper.

I know people have their criticisms about cloth diapering, and some people are probably going to think I am crazy, but I think it is the economically and environmentally responsible thing to do. The average baby uses like 10,000 diapers by the time he/she is potty trained. That is a lot of diapers to sit in a landfill. Plus, diapers cost about $1000-$1500 a year, depending on what you buy. No matter how much we spend on cloth diapers, it will be a savings. Plus, we can sell them on eBay when we are done with them. In addition, I don't like what disposable diapers have done to the potty training process, and I found myself wishing I had used cloth with Vinny. Disposables completely suck the moisture away, which is great- supposedly- but then when they are toddlers, they don't have any idea what it feels like to pee their pants and are totally happy in diapers. I don't think that is natural. I think kids should naturally get to a point of being uncomfortable in diapers, and that should be a motivation to want to get out of diapers. The quicker they are out of diapers, the better!

Okay, well, there is my rant on that.