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, August 28, 2011

Fun with the CSA box

A friend of mine let me have her CSA (community supported agriculture) box this week since she was on vacation. I was excited to get it, but didn't quite know what to expect. We are relatively picky people (okay, at least I am a picky person), so I was a bit nervous that it might be full of things I would be pressed to figure out what to do with.

Could not have been further from the truth. And I am getting a little more adventurous too.

So, this weekend I experimented. It came with an eggplant, and I recall from my youth that I do not like eggplant, but I was determined to use it. I found a recipe for spaghetti sauce with eggplant and decided it would be a good addition. I diced up a bunch of eggplant and threw it in the crockpot with tomatoes and red wine and a bunch of spices for a spicy arrabiata sauce. About an hour before I was ready to serve it, I poured it all in the blender and liquified it. The eggplant made for a wonderfully chunky texture when liquified, almost like a meat sauce, but without meat. So tonight, we had a deliciously fresh vegetarian meal. It was fantastic.

In addition, I also decided to make some salsa for tomorrow. I have some grass-fed beef I have been saving for tacos, so I figured if I made it in advance, it would have time to get happy. I got crazy fancy with it too. I roasted all my veggies on the grill- tomatoes, peppers, and corn. I pureed the tomatoes and peppers, but also threw in a bunch of fresh tomatoes too. Made a great mix. At first, it was so crazy hot, but then after I let it get happy for a while, some of the sweetness from the corn made it tolerable. I just had a bite of it a little bit ago, and it is an interesting mix. The sweet corn mixing with the smokiness from the roasted tomatoes and the spiciness of the peppers make a great mix. I am so excited to make tacos tomorrow night.

I honestly wish the box came with more tomatoes. I could make limitless tomato recipes, I swear.

The rest of this week's menu includes a chicken chili soup with roasted corn (ton of corn), sundried tomato chicken with roasted or fried okra (haven't decide which yet) and rice , and possibly some spaghetti squash with the leftover spaghetti sauce from tonight.

 Tonight before bed Vinny and I had a little fruit tasting session so he could decide what to bring to school tomorrow. He discovered he likes pears, but apparently not as much as peaches. This is good for my family. I think I may just have to do it.   :-)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Things are looking up (really, not pretending now)

So, yesterday, Vinny had a wonderful day at school. His teacher read them Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which he loves, and... he made some friends. He still doesn't know their names (haha), but he told me he played "sharks" with them at recess, and that one of them sits next to him in his class, and he ate lunch with them and played at lunch too. Sounds like he has found some buddies.  Yea!

We are also beginning a new venture. Vinny has decided to play soccer. He has done gymnastics for almost 2 years now, and it has been enough. He liked it and didn't want to try anything different, even when Marc was offered free t-ball registration for volunteering with the league. But last weekend, Vinny declared that he wanted to play soccer. I discovered he was somewhat untimely in his decision, but fortunately not too late. Sign ups for the Fall season had ended, but I talked to a friend who put me in touch with the right people, and he said there is an opening Vinny can slide into. Woo hoo!

I went yesterday and bought him cleats, shin guards, and a ball. He was so excited he literally carried around the shoe box and ball all night. He can't wait to play.

I could really never picture myself as a soccer mom, but according to my sister, I am not a soccer mom until I drive a mini van or SUV. Sorry Tina.

I think someday I want to join an adult league. That would be fun. But there is currently a moratorium on Mommy signing up for any additional commitments. Someday.

Possibly my new favorite dinner recipe

In May, Family Fun magazine (the only one I read regularly) featured a recipe for a "Foil Feast."  It looked interesting, and I told myself I would give it a try. 

This was Vinny/Tiana's, which included no spice except a little salt and pepper.
I forgot until last week, when I had a fridge full of randomness- frozen chicken breasts and several almost empty bags of vegetables. Hmm.... foil feast?  So we gave it a shot. It was nothing exciting... just a bunch of odds and ends really... but the results were... WOW!

Essentially, its just meat and veggies that steam in an aluminum foil packet on the grill. The beauty of it though is that each person's packet can be individualized. I also found that the meat cooks much faster and stays much juicier. 

This was my packet, which I covered in Cachere's Cajun seasoning. Yum.
The first time, we had some carrots, corn, peas, red potatoes, onions, and boneless skinless chicken breasts. Vinny doesn't like his food spicy or flavorful, but Marc and I do, so Vinny's got a little salt and pepper, while ours got Cajun seasoning and garlic powder. 

 I folded up the packets and threw them on the grill for about 10 minutes on each side. The Family Fun recipe recommends about 15 minutes, but I wanted to be sure that they cooked completely through and got a little bit of roasty flavor, so I gave it a little longer.

Just wrap the foil packets up and throw them on the grill.
The finished product, fresh off the grill.
I tried it again this week, but this time, I planned ahead. I bought a package of precut steak tips (like the kind for beef stew), haricot verts (french green beans), and bell peppers. To make it a super fast weeknight dinner, which has become a necessity for us, I bought the green beans in a ready to steam package, which meant they were fresh but were the kind that you could actually eat the whole thing, no ends to snap off, and I bought a frozen bag of mixed variety pre-sliced bell pepper pieces (Trader Joe's has all this stuff for cheap). The longest part of the process was slicing the red potatoes up. We also threw in some grape tomatoes. I may have overspiced it a little this time, but it was still wonderful. The meat was very flavorful and the veggies were delicious. We ate every bite.

Mommy's yummy bowl.

Even Tiana liked it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trying to have a positive attitude...

... but it is hard.

Vinny still says that kindergarten is more fun than preschool... and it is only the second day, but he is not having the easiest time.

Today he said that a boy ran up and messed up his hair. This is sort of a big deal to Vinny. He likes it spiked and made a big deal about it this morning. He wanted to make sure it looked just like yesterday (apparently he liked it) and asked several times if it looked just like yesterday. He said a boy ran up to him on the playground and messed it all up (and it does look like that is exactly what happened). Marc asked, "Did you say anything?" and Vinny replied, "Yes, I said, 'Stop!'" Marc continued, "Did he stop?" Vinny said that he did... but I could see in his eyes that the damage had been done.

We asked who he played with on the playground, and he said no one. He played by himself, because he doesn't know anyone. We suggested he attempt to play with some other kids and he insisted that he did try today, but they "didn't listen," so he played by himself. I am having terrible flashbacks to elementary school. I have to admit that my favorite part of recess as a kid was when the bell would ring. My drama students did a play last semester called "Surviving Lunch," that I have to admit I partially picked because the title resonated with me so much.

Although I know he is a little shy, and he is a little hard to understand, so friends are not going to come easy to him, I also need to remember that it is only the second day, and that he is incredibly resilient. Stuff bounces right off of him. When a kid in preschool declared he wasn't Vinny's friend any more, I told Vinny not to be too sad and he replied, "I'm not sad. I'm still his friend, even if he doesn't want to be mine." He is still having a good time. He will keep trying. And when he does eventually connect with someone, he will probably have a good friend, because he IS a good friend. He cares about his friends, he is good at sharing, he is not bossy, and he has a fun personality. When kids get to know him, I have to believe they will want to be his friends.

I think that writing this is more therapeutic for me than anything else.

Meanwhile... on the high school front, I had a somewhat frustrating day. For some reason, half of my 5th period wandered in late. It is as if they feel that they can be late because I am on the other side of the building and they are coming from break, not just a passing period. I am going to have to stand outside on Thursdays and pass out detention slips and make every kid who walks in late give me that much time from their lunch. There were literally so many of them this time that it was practically impossible to record. As I was writing down names, I am certain I missed a bunch. There were just too many to count, which is ridiculous. Then they took forever to settle down and were squirrelly all period. I normally don't have a problem with classroom management, but this class is making me crazy. They are so talkative and get distracted so easily. There is always one like this. Last year it was first period. This year my first period is a dream. To make matters worse... I was being observed. Boo.

I am behind on lesson planning and have a ton of papers coming in today/tomorrow. I have got to catch up somehow.

Someone remind me to breathe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

And so it begins...

I will never get over how weird some of the stuff is that ends up on America's Got Talent. Seriously.

Today was Vinny's first day of school, and it was definitely a positive experience. Yea! On the way home, he asked if he gets to go back tomorrow, and when I told him yes, he cheered, "Yea! Mommy, I don't ever want to leave kindergarten, it is so much fun!" Hahahaha.

He says he made friends. He doesn't remember any of their names. I heard several times about his teacher's quiet signal. They did a coloring activity where he colored a picture of himself, and they watched a movie about a duck and a frog and an ant. I heard all about both playgrounds and snack time. Apparently there are people from his preschool there, but he didn't see any of them; however, he doesn't seem to care. I am so relieved and so glad that he had a good time.

In other news, Marc is on track to become a first rate PTA Dad. He was on a first name basis with the PTA President by pick-up time today. He went to the "Parent Hour" this morning, where he introduced himself to the board members and proudly declared that he wants to join the PTA board. She enthusiastically took his name down and handed him a calendar of events. This whole thing probably sounds funny to most people... who don't know Marc. If you do know Marc, it makes a lot of sense. I have no doubt that he will really enjoy judging art competitions and coordinating pumpkin carving contests.

My world lately has been about balancing ten million responsibilities and handling paperwork on top of paperwork. Our school decided to implement benchmark tests as of last year to be able to pay teachers based on student performance. If using a value added model, this is not a terrible idea, but it involves finding an accurate testing method, which has not been a seamless process. I was only given about 10 days to work with my department chair on perfecting the 10th grade English exam. It has taken up most of my free time at school, since the exam cannot leave the department chair's classroom. I am STILL not finished, despite putting hours of work into it. And this is just one thing on my mile high pile.

Today was just plain exhausting too. It was one of running around the room like a chicken with my head cut off helping students with their papers. These are always exhausting days, but they are worth the results.

Sigh. Time for bed. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tomorrow is Vinny's first day of school. I will not be able to be there to drop him off tomorrow (Marc gets to do drop off duty that we actually have to pay for, humorously enough), so I took today off so I could at least go to his kindergarten orientation. I am glad I did. It was interesting.

His class is not in the same building as the other kindergarten classes (too many, I guess). There is no bathroom in the room like the other kinder classes have, but the teacher assured us they all end up getting to the bathroom just fine. I am not worried. They will have recess and lunch at school, which is different from when I was in kindergarten, but not really very different for Vinny, since he has been eating lunch at school since he was 18 months old.

I thought that this transition would be a piece of cake for me and for him, seeing as how he has been to a different school each year since he started preschool at 18 months (I didn't intend his preschool experience to be that way... it just ended up that way), but it was different. It is so much bigger than any preschool he has gone to, and the stakes just seem so much higher. It is like they are such big kids. Orientation did make me feel better though. His teacher suggested that we work with them on things like opening packages for lunch, because some kids get too shy to ask for help opening a package at lunch and then will just not eat. I know this is terrible to say, but it sort of made me feel better that Vinny definitely has that part down, and it was reassuring to know that the teachers recognize that they are still our little babies in so many ways.

Speaking of his teachers... her name happens to be particularly difficult for Vinny to say. Sigh...

While my other friends with new kindergarteners will send their little ones off tomorrow thinking, "Will he make friends? Will he miss me? Will he have fun," I send my son off tomorrow worrying, "Will people understand him alright? Will he get made fun of for the way he speaks? Will he end up getting embarrassed about his speech impediment and be too nervous to talk at all?"

I think I am just going to ask his teacher if he can call her "Mrs.G" since he can say the "juh" sound okay, but the "guh" sound is a whole nother ball game.

I feel for parents of special needs children, I really do.

That said... I am very excited for him. It is such a big exciting step towards growing up, and I love the little man he is becoming.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Today was INSANE...

Thursdays are always hard.

We are on block schedule Wednesdays/Thursdays, where we have half our periods each day. I like the schedule for the large block of time in which I am able to accomplish a lot. When I have a really great project-based lesson plan, it is great to be able to use the full two hours without losing the momentum that occurs over the course of two class periods.

 Like yesterday, I did my awesome Green Day lesson about music censorship and Green Day's stand against it. It was the third time I've taught the lesson, and perhaps third time is a charm, or maybe it's just this awesome group of 42 intelligent and enthusiastic students, but that lesson just totally rocked my socks. Okay, I wasn't wearing socks, but if I was, they'd have been rockin'.

But Thursday are hard, because block schedule means I don't get a prep period that day. It means I teach straight through from 7:45a.m. to 3:25p.m., with only brief breaks. But today was especially hard, particularly because my students have an assignment due, and it was back to school night.

I arrived early to make phone calls about our New York trip. I keep remembering after school, but by then, most of the places back east are closed. So I called and paid for the theater tickets and started solidifying our dinner reservations. The bell rang way before I was ready, and off I went. It was a busy day of walking back and forth to the library with my classes to work on their narratives on the computers. The 5th period kids were making me crazy. So many of them were so far behind, and so many of them needed SO much help, and I wanted to go around and help them all, but if I was not standing in front of the room giving them all the evil "don't-you-dare-even-think-of-talking" eye, then they'd start talking. The assignment is due tonight at midnight. Why they felt they had time to waste, I had no idea. I eventually had to get super strict and totally yell and threaten to make them all turn off their computers and do nothing but read, since they apparently didn't need time to work.

During lunch I had a meeting with the New York trip kids about fundraising (ahem, family and friends, letters are coming- you've been warned). The bell rung so quickly, and I realized I had not eaten the salad I brought for lunch. Oh, well, I will eat it during drama, I thought.

Then there was drama... the veteran students keep complaining (Okay, only Kimberly keeps complaining, but I see it in all their faces) because I am actually teaching them this time. I have always sort of just DONE drama before and not really taught them all the background stuff, but this time I am trying to really teach them. I really feel like it is going well overall. There are a few problems with drama. Due to the nature of the class, I do not have them in a seating chart. They move so much, and we spend a lot of time in the auditorium, so it would kind of be a waste of time. Plus, it is an elective class, so I don't want them to feel like it is all strict. In addition, there are 52 kids in there. It creates wonderful energy for some things, but when I am trying to give instruction, it gets difficult. Because it is drama, it is a room full of energetic, outgoing kids who have a hard time not commenting on things to each other. Because there are 52 of them, a few murmurs here and a few murmurs there, very quickly turns into me yelling over them, which I refuse to do, so that turns into me standing there frustrated, giving them all the stink eye, waiting for them to shut up, far too often. AGH!!!! Today I just lost it and totally yelled at all of them. I scared them. They shut up. I apologized. We moved on.

And then there was much business to attend to. Cast members need to introduce their newly developed characters to each other. Crew needed to make plans for costumes and sets and whatnot. Publicity had a fundraiser to plan. I had a million pieces of paper to fill out for facility reservations and field trip requests. At one point, I remembered, "Oh yeah, try to eat," and even got my salad out, but then I realized the 30 minutes I'd given for group work was almost over and it was time to try some of the "relaxed readiness" exercises I had promised them. The salad was never eaten.

Before I knew it, the day was over. Still running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I set up my room for back to school night, helped students with their narratives, and helped the publicity crew get their fundraising stuff out and ready.

Back to school night was very successful, but very tiring. I am the 10th grade clan leader, and although it is not that much work, it is kind of mentally exhausting to feel in charge of something like the back to school night presentation. I could never be an administrator. I wouldn't ever sleep.

By the time I arrived home this evening, I was just completely drained. I looked down at my feet halfway through back to school night tonight and realized that all the walking back and forth on the asphalt in sandals made for disgustingly dirty feet. I cannot wait to get in the bath tonight.

At least it was an overall successful day. Things got accomplished. Back to school night was a success. My publicity crew made enough money to cover their expenses (advertising, programs, tickets, etc.) for our upcoming show. And hey... at least tomorrow is Friday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of the Internet in a Traditional High School Education

I have always believed that the internet is one of the most powerful tools available for education today. You know when I first figured this out?  When my sister was in high school and I watched her argue with her friends on livejournal over the stupidest crap in the world. She and her friends said things online that they'd probably never say in person (okay, most of them wouldn't). This may sound like a crazy line of logic, but stay with me.

Teens will say things online that they will never say in person. They will argue. They will take a stand. Students who will not ever say ANYTHING in class are actually rather likely to type out long thoughtful responses... and be bold enough to disagree with a classmate and offer support for their argument. When you are teaching a class where learning to argue is key and using persuasive evidence is an essential standard, this is a wonderful thing.

When I was student teaching, we discussed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a Google group. It was simple but had the intended results, at least minimally. My very first year teaching full-time, I started a Ning, and students began discussing online. Over the past 3 years, I have used it for online discussions during breaks for students, with powerful results. This year, for the first time ever, I have begun to use it to extend discussions and readings that accompany our in class curriculum. Oh my has it been powerful. I can hardly begin to summarize how impressive their thoughts have been. But I will give you this anecdote:

This week, they read a chapter from Reading Lolita in Tehran where Azar Nafisi's students debate whether or not they should continue to study F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, because of its questionable content. I asked (among other questions), "Why do you think the students who oppose studying The Great Gatsby feel so passionately that it should be banned?"
One student's response included,
"As children, they grew up with a picture in their heads of how the world should be and what is right and what is wrong, according to the family's [Muslim] beliefs. Then, in reading [The Great Gatsby] they feel as though they are told that their beliefs are wrong. That makes the students feel dishonored. Being told they are wrong is like being told their parents and religion are all wrong to believe certain things, so it is not surprising that they would passionately oppose it."

I am just so impressed with them and so excited that it is only August. This is going to be an amazing year!

In other news, I can now proudly say that I have actually been the subject of an intervention. Hahahahahahaha. My parents sat solemnly in my living room yesterday and oh-so-calmly tried to convince me to delay my Masters for at least another couple of years. After much explaining, I think they have come to understand the many, many, many things I have changed in my life this year to accommodate this program, and how much it means to me. But the whole experience was really rather touching. Too bad "Be the subject of an intervention" was not on my buried list.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And it all seemed to be getting better...

After being seriously grounded, Vinny's behavior improved significantly last week. I was so pleased. We gave him back his cd player and let him watch a little tv. We kept many of the toys that we took away, planning on giving them back little by little as he continued to behave. Looks like they'll be living in the closet a while longer... probably along with the cd player.

He bit a kid today. I was horrified. He couldn't explain why, and neither could the victim. What is going on with my child? He got in trouble yesterday for spitting at someone and promised us up and down that today he would behave. He seemed so sincere, and I believe he was. It is like he has somehow lost control. Ugh.

And to make matters worse, Tiana is sick. I write this from the waiting room of an urgent care office that is packed with people. Dinner is not appearing near upon the horizon of this evening. Poor thing is miserable. She woke up from her afternoon nap at school with a runny nose and a fever of 102.7. Boo.  She is moaning and panting in my arms. The worst worst thing about being a mom is when they get sick.

My students have a major assignment due this week and I really need to be there tomorrow, but I don't foresee that happening.  I am teaching my favorite lesson about music censorship to the honors class tomorrow too. Not sure how to rearrange it if I can't be there.

Why is life so hard?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Apologies, Explanations, and Updates

What a week. So much to say, I will try to be concise.  There is much on my mind, much of which requires caution and sensitivity, so I apologize for any obscurity.

To those I freaked out with my FB post about wanting to cry for hours, I apologize. I am emotional and I wear my heart on my sleeve. Just who I am, but it has been a rough week. A lot of it is just that I am a naturally empathetic person, which is sometimes to my detriment, but I am who I am.

To Barb who I have left with unreturned calls all week, I am sorry. It is midnight right now, and I doubt you'd appreciate a call this late. To Mo (and anyone else) whom I have left with hours between texts, I apologize. To anyone else I ignored or forgot, I am sorry. I am trying very hard to keep my head above water. 

I don't know how some people do so much so well, and I feel like I barely survive. The work week feels like a marathon to me, and each night, home feels like a quick water break. Lately, I don't even feel like I stop running in my sleep. I have a hard time sleeping and when I do, I dream lesson plans (not even kidding) and I wake up in the middle of the night for no good reason. For the first time ever, I am thinking of getting some sleeping pills. 

Our school received testing scores back from the big high stakes tests last May. I will not go into detail, but I will say I cried. How stupid is that? To cry over pencil filled bubbles. Geez. What is wrong with me... (no, I am not pregnant). 

The other sad thing, I haven't really felt comfortable writing about online, but I guess I just will. My cousins' dad has stomach cancer, and it is terminal. I will not pretend that we are close - we are not (he has not been married to my aunt for many years)- but being my cousins' dad, I have seen him at family events for years, and he is a very interesting, funny guy... and he will not be here much longer. I am so sad for my cousins and so sad to see him suffer. We went to his art gallery last night. It was wonderful to see all of his art, but emotional too. There was this one about his swim coach, that he painted three weeks before he found out he had cancer, and it was just... eerie. (His art in general is eerie- it is his style- but this was different). And then there was this one.... I couldn't stop thinking about it all night for so many reasons. It is called "The Mother and Her Crazy Girl." 

I don't want to put out that the week has been all negative. There has been positive. This week in teaching has actually gone really well. Like 90% of my lessons went as well as expected... or better. My honors group this year is constantly throwing me for a loop. I've never had a group of more than 40 students, amazing ones at that, and they rock my world. I have to RE-plan almost every day for them because they are unpredictable (in a good way) and the tangents are so healthy and produce so much learning that they are truly worth following. It almost isn't worth making lesson plans more than a day in advance. Drama, much thanks to the fantastic Janelle's tutelage, is going swimmingly. I feel like I am actually teaching real college prep style drama this year, yet I am pretty sure that everyone is having fun too. It feels great.

I also, as I mentioned Monday, was getting very overwhelmed by my desk this week. I never fully recovered from the mess that happened from when maintenance moved everything to wax the floors over the summer, but now, it is finally all starting to feel like it is coming together like I want it to. I stayed late today and didn't leave until the piles were completely gone, and it just made a big difference in how I feel about returning on Monday. Of course, many of the piles went into my giant accordion portfolio to work on this weekend, but at least it feels organized and manageable.

The other very positive thing is that Vinny seems to have made a 180. It was little-by-little with snotty comments Sunday and yelling and punishments on Monday, but he didn't get in trouble the rest of the week and by today was actually being normal, respectful, nice Vinny again. I let him watch a tiny bit of tv tonight before he fell asleep, and tomorrow, he gets back his CD player. It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders with that one.

My house is a total disaster, and I have a million papers to grade, but I am still looking forward to a semi-relaxing weekend. I think I need to listen to more Bob Nesta... and remember that every little thing is gonna be alright. 

The only really sucky negative...we are broke. Wiped out. Boo. The only positive to that is that we are broke because we made the last payment on our Hawaii trip (It is less than two months away. Woo hoo!) and my tuition is due (Master's degree here I come, also woo hoo!), so at least it is positive stuff.

So, to all the friends I have let slide this week, I will try to call you this weekend,  I promise.   :-)

Monday, August 8, 2011

How quickly things shift...

I am having such a hard time right now.

Over the summer, I was in such a positive, relaxed, can-do state of mind. I felt like I could make everything work this year and balance it all. I felt lucky to have the best kids in the world. I felt so lucky to have the perfect life.

Then all the little things stack up in front of your eyes and it is hard to see the perfect life through the piles.

My classroom refrigerator apparently broke over the weekend. This was a seriously sad thing. I know this sounds minimal, but it is not. I am not in the same building as everyone in the rest of the school, so I am literally the farthest possible location in the school from the teacher's lounge. Having a fridge makes EVERYTHING easier. Even for stupid simple little things like having my coffee creamer in there. That's how I realized it was broken today. I went to grab my coffee creamer out of there and realized everything in it was warm. The light is on, the freezer is still working (and everything in it is still frozen), but the fridge is not cold. Boo.  I'm also really sad because my brother-in-law sweetly gave it to me about this time last year, and my dad graciously agreed to bring it to me (it didn't fit in my car, and I was too pregnant to carry it anyway), and when I got it, I was so excited. I had always had a tiny little fridge that basically fit my lunch, coffee creamer, and a couple of drinks, but when that one broke and Dan gave me this one, it was like the highlight of my year. It had been such a blessing. I am so, so, so sad it is broken. It was a great fridge.

The students this year are... different. I don't yet know how exactly, but lessons that worked really well last year are not working as well this year. I can certainly adapt to make things work better, but I need to figure out what makes this group tick, and I haven't yet. It is causing me stress to think about. Not even kidding.

Vinny is... he's.... geez.... this is so hard to write about. I have wanted to all week, but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. His behavior lately is atrocious. It is little stuff that may just be him adjusting to a new schedule and routine, but it is also big stuff, really bad stuff, like an overall attitude of total entitlement. He acts like he is royalty, and you better have his precise demands arranged expediently.... OR ELSE.  And I am not exaggerating. He uses those word, "OR ELSE," all the time lately. His threats are so asinine and petty, they are almost humorous, but the fact he thinks he can threaten me is disgusting. He threatens to refuse breakfast daily if I buy generic cereal instead of name brand. It is seriously ridiculous. I do not know who this kid is.

We ended up grounding him for the first time ever. He has been very much so punished before (the past two weeks it has been straight to bed after dinner almost every night), but never long term. I think we just thought he was too young to understand it before, but we really grounded him. We took away his CD player and all his CDs (his most precious possession), banned him from television and pretty much everything he enjoys, and took away most of his toys. He seemed to be starting to get it and maybe even regret his behavior, but he still has a long way to go. It is frustrating and exhausting and makes me question how it even got to this point. Where have we gone wrong in parenting this child?

On top of it all, the to-do list in my head is so ridiculously long I can barely see straight. The piles around my desk refuse to get straightened up. I envy teachers whose desks are always tidy, who have a place for every paper, and somehow manage the paper load with such ease. That is so not me. My life is a sea of paper. I do the best I can to stay afloat and not drown, but the seas are rough in my part of the ocean and I am apparently not a very good swimmer. When it comes to writing innovative lesson plans, my innate creativity rarely fails me. Providing meaningful feedback to papers, usually good up until like the 86th paper or so. Yet keeping my desk clear and on top of the tiny tasks... somehow always impossible.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

First Week of School

I can hardly believe the first week of school is almost over and I haven't blogged once, but I have been just drowning. SO, SO, SO much to do... but it has really all paid off.

I feel like I am reaching this beautiful point in my teaching where I am starting to really "get it" about so many things, and the activities I am planning are turning out just how I planned if not better. Plus, so many beautiful things have fallen into place this year. No, I should restate that- they haven't fallen into place; they have been painstakingly planned into a beautiful symphony.

Last year, I read some research that suggested that smaller class sizes only make a difference for struggling students, and that larger class sizes at the top make little to no difference in student achievement. This seemed to make some sense, but for me, this would mean keeping, well, ALL of my regular classes small. That's when I realized, "Wait a second! That's what would happen by default if I packed out Honors!"  So I discussed it with my department chair, she agreed, and we went for it. We encouraged the top students to apply for honors and accepted pretty much all of them, even ones we would have had reservations about before.

I am SO glad we did. I already see the difference. My regular classes are beautifully smaller. Whereas my smallest class had 27 before, now, that is my largest class. Of course Honors has 41 people in it, but they are doing wonderfully. The energy in that class is amazing! It is going to be a fun, fun year.

Speaking of large class sizes, my drama class has 52 students, and I just wrote a note for two seniors saying that they have my permission to add. When the counselor asked for my permission to increase the cap (there were 49 when she sent that), I texted her back, "The sign in my room says maximum capacity is 72." Okay, I admit, I added that 72 might be a bit much. I guess I am both excited that so many people actually want to be in drama (they all requested the class) and I don't want to deprive anyone, particularly seniors, of having an opportunity to be part of a theater program. It is an amazing experience.

When the seniors came in to ask my permission to add today, one of them was genuinely shocked to hear it was full. She said, "Two years ago, we barely had enough people to do Beauty and the Beast. What happened?"  I thought about it, and I realized what happened. Failure happened.

Or shall I say, we didn't really fail. As Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that don't work."  We experienced what DIDN'T work last year when I tried to put on three student-directed one-acts at the same time during the second semester with a bunch of seniors suffering from senioritis. However, through our lack of success at putting up a real evening time show, we ended up putting on about 5 performances during school. Students who may never have thought to add drama before became interested. And thus... my class has reached 54. I'm excited.

And I am putting a lot into really teaching drama this year, not just doing drama. I'm studying theory and technique and teaching it all along with exercises and examples. It is going to be a good semester. I could tell that today when my "physical theory" activity resulted in a group of kids creating a "workout room" made only from their body parts, with an exerciser who came in a "rode" their recumbent bike. I was impressed. I only wish I took pictures.