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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The good stuff

The past couple of months have been rough, and I have not had much to say about lessons because it feels like all we are doing is testing, testing, and testing - state testing, district testing, state retesting, high school testing, district testing, final exam testing. It has been nonstop and will continue to be for the next two weeks of school. Fortunately, I have had some awesome reminders of why I do this.


Every year, the top 2% of graduating seniors get invited to a district luncheon to celebrate their achievements. As part of this honor, they invite an important teacher from their educational careers. In 2009, I received this recognition from one of my first year students, and I was blown away that a kid from my seventh grade class would think enough of me for this. One of my favorite memories of this student was chasing her down the hallway the day I caught her with a note. She was so well-behaved that I was quite shocked. I never did get that note, but I have watched this silly girl turn into a married woman and college graduate. 

Well, I have been chosen again by a wonderful young lady. I have had the pleasure of watching her grow up over the past few years because her younger brother was at the junior high after her. I visited the high school a couple of weeks ago and ran into her on my way out. I will see her tomorrow for our photo and then again June 2. I am anxious to ask her why she chose me over all the other teachers she has had (sometimes I find it crazy that they still think highly of me after they have gone through high school). 


Today I had not one, but two visits, from former students. As I was taking my class to lunch this afternoon, I saw a young woman walking toward me. At first I thought she might be a sub or someone's sister. Then the light bulb went off, and I could not believe I was looking at D. 

D. was in my class year's ago. She was a pain in the butt, scrawny tomboy with big glasses. If I recall correctly, we had a few parent conferences in the few months she was with me before Mom packed D. and her brother off and headed back to their home state of Michigan. 

That first student who picked me for the recognition award is also the one who introduced me to Facebook, and to this day, I have a student page because of her. D. found me a few years ago, and I have watched my former tomboy blossom in to an amazingly gorgeous young woman. So imagine my surprise when I found her standing in front of me when I thought she was hundreds of miles away. 

D. told me that she had come back and was getting ready to enroll at the community college before heading to the University of Texas at Arlington to major in social work. I am an alumni of both the school and the program, so this completely blew me away. She told me how much I meant to her and how she wanted to give back, then she broke into tears, bringing me pretty close (I am getting far too emotional in my old age). 


During my seventh period Pre-AP class, the one that drives me absolutely bonkers, a colleague showed up at my door - with her younger sister. D. (not the same name, but another D.) was one of my second year students, and boy, did she make an impact. Despite keeping in touch with her, we have been crossing paths for a long time, until today. 

D. was from my favorite Pre-AP class ever. I cannot tell you how much fun those kids were. There were some big issues at school that year, and we often had to shut down and just vent. When D. would get going, she would make me roll. 

D. had scoliosis. Our science teacher, a woman struggling with cancer, worked her butt off to get D. treatment at Scottish Rite. We watched D. go from playing basketball in a brace (and she was good) to being able to completely function without it - and show up to my classroom in five inch heels today. That girl has always had an awesome sense of fashion. My colleague died shortly after, but even this agnostic believes she is somewhere looking down at D. with exceptional pride. 

D. also attended my Alma Mater (she graduated two weeks ago). She was such an exceptional student on campus that she is featured in a campus tour preview video. When we took a field trip to the campus last year, I got all giddy when I saw her on screen. Now she is preparing to head to Ohio for graduate school. 


When I started teaching, I never considered that students would want to come back and see me or keep in touch with me. It just never crossed my mind as something that happened. After eleven years, I am still shocked when they remember me. They have taught me more than I have ever taught them through the lasting relationships they have maintained with me

They are my reason. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

My life with Adam

Every year, I have an imaginary celebrity boyfriend. This started in 2001 with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I become completely enamored with Orlando Bloom and his elven self. I have found this approach to be much easier than revealing too much about my personal dating life (this year's group cannot figure out if I am actually married or not). 

My Pre-AP class at the time decided that Orlando was cheating on me with Britney Spears. This became on ongoing battle, and I eventually dumped Orlando, much to their delight. 

After a couple of brief imaginary relationships with lesser men, I began dating Adam Levine. Our imaginary relationship has lasted years - mostly because my students wanted me to be dating celebrities like Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. When The Voice came on, it seemed inevitable that we would be together forever. I often discuss how certain things Adam says on the show are really secret messages to me - and on occasion, my kids actually believe me. They freak out whenever I talk about him, and a Maroon 5 song comes on the radio.

Earlier this week, a student (who I do not have in class) approached me and asked if I had dated Adam Levine in high school. I must have done a good job of hiding my initial shock, because I responded, "Yeah. I thought everyone knew that." I was grilled with a number of questions, all of which I responded to quickly, and the student ate it up. 

The following day, two female students came to me with the same question. I explained that I am from Encino (I was actually born there), which is LA County. Adam is also from LA. We went to high school together. Both of us were kind of nerdy (I believe he says that in the Proactiv commercial), and we had a short fling - just a couple of weeks. 

"Oh my gawsh! Have you hugged him, miss?"

"Yes. We even kissed a couple of times. It's not really a big deal."

This was followed by squeals and giggles.

I know there is a bit sick and twisted of me, but I get a kick out of it. I love to see how quickly rumors will spread around the building. And in my defense, I always tell my students not to believe 99% of what I say. I am an English teacher after all. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Personal Progress (Interventions: Part II)

This week, I truly struggled with one student, one whom I have known since he was a seventh grader last year. He was coming late, telling me he didn't need my class, not working, and arguing. This is the student who told my co-teacher that he was going to get his GED, work at a local grocery store, rent a one-bedroom apartment, and buy a motorcycle. 

I know not every student we teach is going to reach the same status in life, but at fourteen, I want my kids to dream big and find the motivation to achieve those dreams. I have worked in a two grocery stores. It is not an easy job. And based on my experiences, I know that many of the long-term workers do not have other options. At fourteen, we still have options. 

Yesterday we held Saturday interventions for those students who failed the eighth grade STAAR reading test in early April. This particular student attended, much to my surprise (Thanks, Mom!). I was expecting a very rough 35-minutes with this student, but we had a turning point. 

We were working on short passages to determine theme. One of the passages contrasted Money Mike and Poor Penny. Money Mike grew up with everything he desired, but he was never happy. Poor Penny grew up with nothing, achieved great success, and found happiness in everything she encountered. 

Of course, my boys were all over the money. I would buy a mansion with an indoor pool and a movie theater and a...  So I asked this student how he would get all of these things by working at the local grocery store. There was a pause, and then something clicked. Within a few minutes, we had discussed his feelings about school, and he had come up with a brand new plan - with no prompting from me: finish high school and go to community college to earn an Associate's degree, working at the grocery store during that time. 

This may not be a huge jump, but it mattered to me. He is now dreaming bigger. Maybe I will see him at the grocery store in ten years, but maybe, just maybe, I will see him on TV or in the news as a successful businessman. I know which dream I am holding on to.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Interventions: Part I

Thursday, April 24. Third period. Phone rings. I know the extension on the caller ID. It's the boss. She needs a favor. A big favor. And thus interventions began. That was the last time I saw my students, and I will not be returning to them until Tuesday, May 13. 

As part of our Student Success Initiative (SSI), eighth grade students who fail the state reading and/or math tests are given two more chances. We start with ten days of interventions (pull-out classes) before the first retest. If students fail that exam, they attend summer school, taking the third test at the end of June. 

I am currently working with 58 students: a mixture of kids from my own class and others; ESL, Sped, at-risk, and economically disadvantaged students; most of whom I know, a few of whom I do not. The majority of my student population is male, many of whom are considered the school trouble makers. We meet for 45 minutes a day, working on test-taking strategies and low scoring skills. This is in addition to continuing to write lessons and grade papers for my own class and the long-term sub class (for which we now have a certified teacher, and my life is a bit easier). 

There have definitely been some challenges. For the first two days, I have dealt with a lot of "I don't need to be here. I only failed by one question." My response: "Well, that was by one question too many." The counselor has done a wonderful job intervening, and I have seen an improvement in most of these kids. 

There has also been an extreme disregard for time. I can only count on two students in my last class to show up on time. I have boys strolling in up to five minutes late with absolutely no concern. It got so bad by the third day, that I called in our two assistant principals. Our head football coach, an assistant principal in training, happened to be nearby and also came in. By the fourth day, when there was no improvement, four boys were removed, and their mothers will now be sitting in class with them Monday. 

It has not been all bad, though. The tardy class surprised me Friday. I left to run to the restroom, and by the time I got back, the bell was ringing, and only two students were present. I started muttering and headed for the phone. The second I picked it up, the kids all came running out of the storage closet (we are located in a temporary building). 

In one of my classes, I have two of the rough-n-tough boys whom I know a bit better. We had issues earlier in the year, and they will give me attitude in the hallways every now and then, but no real big concerns. But I have never had them in class. By Thursday, they were both coming in and hugging me before class even started, telling me how much they are getting from these sessions together. 

I was also fortunate enough to receive a co-teacher. Because there was a need for more students to receive interventions and not enough room in my sessions, another teacher was pulled from class. She has two intervention classes of her own and four with me. Although we have no more than ten students per group, it makes a huge difference. We are able to conduct more one-on-one needs. 

So we have good and bad...and yes, there has been some ugly. One boy has come in with tales of his mother that made me offer to bring him home with me. Another is heartbroken because his best friend is dealing with a death in the family. Another shared goals of earning a GED and working at a grocery store for the rest of his life. 

We have completed five days and have six to go. It has certainly been an adventure so far. I am giving them all I have to give, and I hope they are able to use it and pass this test the second time around. 

Now, it's time to head to Super Saturday and work with a few of these kids today.