Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another edition of, "Seriously?!?"

And welcome to another edition of "Seriously?!?" (I'm not sure why my life is starting to feel like a game show, but it's distressing how many of my postings are taking that form!! And yes, this is vaguely reminiscent of Seth Myers and Amy Poehler's version of "Really?!?" on SNL.) A student comes in from lunch last week and asks if he can go to the restroom to wash his hands (given that there is no soap provided in the classrooms, and they stopped giving us our monthly ration of paper towels in December--hello budget cuts...). He said he needed to go wash the fish smell off of his hands. 

Naturally, I asked why his hands smelled like fish. "Me and Carlos were playing Fish Tag." You were playing WHAT?? I was then informed that Fish Tag meant picking up a dead fish (from the canal the school backs up to) and throwing it at your friend.  You've got to be kidding me. I was so mad at them, I really wanted to make them sit and suffer with their fish smell, but I knew that would make ME sit and suffer with their fish smell (and I have a policy against punishing kids AND myself in the process). So, I wrote them both detention and told them to go wash their hands. I was in such a state of disbelief when they explained, innocently of course, what they were doing. I did feel a little better after I reamed them both out for having even considered taking a DEAD fish off the ground and throwing it at each other... Unbelievable.

Stay tuned for next week's edition of "Seriously?!?" in which I catch a 6th grader eating part of his AIMS test. (This hasn't happened yet, but it wouldn't even surprise me at this point.) 

Friday, March 27, 2009

A bittersweet congratulations...

In our staff development meeting yesterday, we had a surprise visit from the superintendent to congratulate us on higher test scores, and let us know how impressed the district higher-ups were with the school, given that we've previously tended to be bottom of the barrel. So there were lots of warm fuzzies and applause. 

I definitely appreciate the recognition we're finally getting from the district for our hard work, however, there was a distinct bittersweet feel to this congratulations, in my opinion. While I'm thrilled that our test scores are going up, it doesn't do a whole lot of good, given that the school will be completely restructuring next year with at least 50% new teachers, if not more; new name and everything. Only about 20% of the students will remain, and most will be replaced by elementary students, since it will be a K-8 school next year. So, that's a weird feeling.

Also, it felt bittersweet given that we've basically been required to totally abandon what we know to be good teacher pedagogy for essentially teaching to the test. The students have been tested to death and are sick of doing worksheets and memorizing discrete skills. It's nearly impossible to teach in a constructivist, project-based manner when you are required to be teaching the exact same thing with the same materials on the exact same day as all 11 other teachers. So, like I said, I'm glad our test scores are going up, but I feel like I am a worse teacher than I was before...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Applications in!

Well, all my applications are in at other districts (finally)! Now I just wait and see... Wish me luck :-)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Getting told by 6th Graders

Welcome to another rousing episode of "Getting Told By 6th Graders." 

It goes like this. My kids inform me of something they THINK I have no idea about. For instance, when they say things like, "My pencil got jacked! (That means someone stole it, Mrs. Shetler.)" Seriously guys. I'm not that old. 

Well, the Friday before Spring Break (Friday the 13th) when we are 5 school days away from our standardized testing, another episode of "Getting Told By 6th Graders" was sprung on me. I was trying to get through the content we needed to cover that day (we're too close to testing to spend the day before spring break watching movies or having a party). The Literature book passage we were reading was about genes and chromosomes, and the kids were not interested in reading (neither was I for that matter). 

However, they WERE interested in talking about it. So we had several discussions about cloning, if twins have the same DNA, etc., etc. Then someone asked about how the woman had 8 babies at once. So I said, "Well, when they make a baby in a lab with an egg and sperm--" and they were gone. You can't just launch into talk of those things without preface, which I did unthinkingly. Eventually I did manage to get through the discussion, but not before several other topics came up along this line, and finally one girl pipes up with this winner: 

"Mrs. Shetler, did you know that in high school they have a whole class about this stuff?? It's called Sex Ed."

And BAM, so ends another episode of "Getting Told By 6th Graders" :-) 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crime and Punishment

Here's a "you've got to be kidding me!!!" moment. The same student who threw a pencil at another kid's eye (see Feb post) told another kid "I'm going to f*** your mom." So, needless to say, I kicked him out of the room. This was about 12:30 in the afternoon. He didn't get to the office until 1:00 (it's a 2 minute walk at most). He told the secretary he didn't get there sooner because he "had something to do." Like what???? Go buy some hot cheetos at El Super down the street?? Anyway, this was also added to the referral that was written. 

His punishment? A detention. (One!)

You've got to be kidding me... At least in this case, I know I did the "good teacher" thing by not letting him get away with it in the classroom... 

What would I do?

So, I had it all figured out, where I wanted to teach next year (Alhambra district), what I was going to do if I didn't get a job there (go to a different school in Cartwright), etc. Why I think I'll be able to get a job anywhere outside the district in an economy like this, I don't know, but hey, I'm a glass half-full kind of person. Then, someone had to thrown in a third idea that threw me all off. The best laid plans, right?

At church, someone tells me that the school her daughter goes to a school for the arts (part of the name), and that they are expanding their 6th grade to add 2 classes and adding 4 fifth grade classes next year. First of all, the major plus is that they are hiring. Who's doing that nowadays? No one. (The amount of teachers being laid off per district around here is in the hundreds, some as many as 700!!!) So, that's already a good thing. Not only that, but this is a free, art-focused school. So, I decided to take a little look-see. The school is incredible. The kids do all their core classes in a long morning session, then in the afternoon all middle school kids are required to take piano and an instrument or dance. The application says they are looking for constructivist, project-based teachers, which is exactly what I'm all about. For those of you that don't know, that means a person who does NOT give 15 tests a week as I'm required to do (not quite that many, but close), but does fun things that actually require kids to learn about things they choose to do and are interested in. Not only that, but it's right downtown and I could ride the light rail to work!! So basically, the more and more I look at this school, the more I realize that if I could hand-pick a teaching job, this is it.

So what's the catch, you ask? You may recall that the school I teach at is low-income, high free/reduced lunch, etc. This is not by accident. I enjoy working with this population, and for all practical purposes feel called to work with them, since no one else is beating down the doors to do it. Schools in upper-class districts will never hurt for good teachers. I like to go where I'm needed :-) This other "dream job" school that I'm looking at though, while still free, does have a lottery waiting list, and tends to serve kids from a bunch of the middle-upper class areas nearby. (And plus, parents that aren't working 2 night jobs and have 5 other kids at home, plus 2 grandkids at home are more likely to be involved in this sort of endeavor.) These are probably also parents who are more likely to be watching their child's teacher very closely, which I have had the luxury of not dealing with yet in my teaching career. 

So, this is a bit of a moral dilemma (though totally premature, since I haven't even gotten applications to both places yet). The school sounds awesome, but the population might be...a big challenge, and I'd be far less needed. But, it would have a lot of fantastic peripheral benefits, I'm more likely to get a job there, and there would be lots of kids involved in music. The first district I am looking at though, has a far greater emphasis on technology and entails working with a population I'm familiar with, and has a much better track record with the given population. So, I don't know. What will most likely happen is I won't get a job anywhere and I'll hopefully at least be in another school in my current district. We'll just see. At least I know that if worst comes to worst and I have to stay at the school I'm at, I'm still slotted to teach 6th grade, which is better than over half the other current 6th grade teachers can say.