Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Official

They have finally stopped pulling the punches and Borman Middle School is officially closing at the end of the year. Declining enrollment, employer sanctions laws that are hostile to illegal immigrants, and horrid test scores for the last 6-8 years were the reasons cited, which are all fair. They are actually planning on reopening it next year with a new name as a K-8 school, along with several other schools in the district in the same situation. (This means that, instead of the current 12 6th grades, there will be 5.) I have to say, after all the things that have gone on this year, I'm actually relieved to have a final end in sight.

They promised jobs to highly qualified teachers with seniority somewhere in the district, and would give preference to people who want to stay at Borman. Based on those things, I could probably stay at Borman, and would definitely have a job somewhere in the district. However, after the way Borman has been treated, and seeing the progression of the school the past four years, and after a lot of hard thinking, I'm planning on applying at another district for next year. Part of me feels like a failure, and the superintendent told us that the test scores and school closing did not mean we were bad teachers or a failure. However, it seems to me that somewhere along the line, someone did fail. It may not have been one single person, or one single decision, but something has gone horribly awry if more than half of the schools in the district are now underperforming. Something is not right. That is a major reason for me leaving the district. It would be awfully tempting to say that it's just hard to teach kids in poverty who are learning English at the same time, and that's why our test scores are low. However, the district right next to us, with the same population of kids, has all of their schools performing AND is winning awards. Clearly, somewhere along the line, someone or something failed.

And, since I hate failing in any way, I'm going to go somewhere where they are being successful at teaching students. (My kids would kill me for starting a sentence with "and.") Again, a big part of me feels like I've failed the kids I am teaching, but I also wonder if I just haven't been given the right tools to do the given job. If I kept on in this district, I have a feeling I would burn out sooner rather than later, due to frustration at constant failure. So, I think I'm doing the right thing for me and my future students.

Hopefully, THAT makes me a good teacher.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They're learning!

Yay! They're learning something! The longer I'm a teacher, the more I realize that the earlier you start something, and the more often you do it, the better students get at it. I know, this sounds like a "duh" moment, but it's true. Allow me several "for instances." [And yes, I know, none of the following things will be on our standardized test, but I think they are victories nonetheless :-).]

For example, I have been making a big deal with my kids about saying the word "library" correctly. I have quite a few every year who want to say "libary," which annoys the heck out of me. So, several times this year, I made them all say it correctly before they went in the library door. Now, when I say it fast, they think I'm saying it wrong and constantly correct me. :-) They're learning!

Another vocabulary example: I have also been attempting to get my students to use academic English in their writing, as opposed to conversational English. Heretofore, I really didn't think this was a distinction that 6th graders who are learning English would be able to make, and so I didn't address it, but this year I've been trying. The result: I was describing a science lab paper the kids would need for a project and I described it as a "worksheet thingy." At this point, at least 3 kids pointed out to me that it was not proper to say something like that and I should be more specific. :-) They're learning!

A non-academic example: I have always told my kids to pick up trash on the playground when they see it, and I always make sure they see me picking up trash as well. However, this year I have been pushing it, and I tell them most days to pick up trash as we're walking inside. On Friday, when I went out to pick the kids up after lunch, one kid was walking toward me with at least 3 cans in his hand. Two other kids saw him and immediately ran off to find trash. As we were walking inside, another girl went off to the track to pick up some blowing garbage. Yay! They're learning! We can make a difference, even if it's just in the little things.

Lesson learned: Start early, repeat often.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Google it!

Today my students were working on a daily math review, and there was a question about what the commutative property was. I didn't learn what that was until I was 16, so I didn't expect them to know the answer, and they didn't. Personally, I can never remember the difference between commutative and associative properties, and so I went to my computer while they were working on the problems and googled it. As I was doing this, one of my kids came up to ask how to do the commutative property problem. As he asked, he looked at my screen, and I just imagined he was putting 2 and 2 together to see that I was looking up something I was about to try and teach them!! (I don't know that's what he was thinking, but it wouldn't be altogether surprising.) I told him to skip the problem and go back to his seat :-) So, I continued googling, found my answer in the expected 5 seconds or less, and went on to explain to the class what it was. I'm not really sure that this qualifies as good teaching, but it least gave me an answer to tell them :-) Lesson learned? When in doubt, Google it!

[By the way, in case you were wondering what the commutative property is, it is the rule that states that 6 + 3 = 3 + 6.]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Coud This Be True??

If you've read my blog before, you may recall that a while ago I said I was waiting for one good thing to happen to make up for all the crazy bad stuff. As an update, there is still lots of crazy things going on at my school (our principal got fired and we have countless random "interim" people all around instead, we were told all teachers in 6th grade must literally be teaching the same page on the same day, etc.) These things are all incredibly frustrating and annoying.

In the face of all of these things, I am forced to focus on the little things :-) One encouraging thing is that we have been given a reasonable lesson plan format to follow, which is significantly less detailed. This effectively has given me my Saturdays back, as I was spending the entire day doing lesson plans. Another good thing is that my other team member has returned from maternity leave and I no longer have to "take care" of the sub next door and do two teachers' worth of work. These things are great, on an organizational level.

On an educational level though, I was greatly encouraged this week when I happened to hear two comments from kids that made me feel like perhaps I am making progress. I was talking to my student who is always full of questions (usually academic, always non-stop). The girl sitting next to him said that she was in his class last year and that his talking drove the teacher nuts. I asked if his behavior was any better this year, and they both agreed that it was somewhat better than it was last year. This may sound like an incredibly minor thing, but this means that something I'm doing is making a modicum of difference! (I know that may not necessarily be the case, but I will gladly take credit!! :-))

The other comment I heard came from a situation where a new student was teasing another student about something 6th graderish (name, hair, height, I don't know). One of my other, shall we say, "outgoing" students then yells across the room, "Hey! Leave him alone! We don't tease people in here, right, Mrs. Shetler?" This literally warms my heart. We have had numerous conversations about teasing people (especially about their names), and how we should absolutely not be doing that. (And yes, in my room, we always use the imperial "we," :-)). While there is still PLENTY of teasing that goes on, evidently my point has gotten across!

Perhaps I am becoming a better teacher yet...