Saturday, October 29, 2011

Student Work Sample

Students were assigned an oral history project in which they interviewed an older member of our community and recorded a story about the person. Student W. asked if he could "embellish" his story about his grandfather. I told him that's what storytellers often do. This is what I got (with permission to share):

Robert Edmund Harrell was created long ago in an underground laboratory, roughly below Siberia. He was made by the will of the Earth God, fusing rock and magma to form the greatest hero the world has ever known. Once the Moon God of the Earth's God's shenanigans, the Moon God constructed his own abomination, Jeffery. Jeffery and Robert Edmund Harrell fought for years, which created the oceans and continents. Eventually, Robert Edmund Harrell prevailed and saved the world from evil Jeffery's wrath.

A few years later Robert Edmund Harrell became very lonely and was looking for a mate he could carry on his legacy with. He found a human named Janet Compton and decided that she would be the best choice. Together, the populated the planet and maintained peace until around the year 1939 when a large war began. The United States of America wanted to control Robert Edmund Harrell because he was a very strong ally to have and if controlled well, could mean victory or defeat for the country. Robert Edmund Harrell realized quickly the position he was in. The United States was smart, but not smart enough to outwit Robert Edmund Harrell. He took control of the country from the inside, disguising himself as a regular human being. His goal was to force every country in the world to worship his power, and what better way than to start with one of the most powerful countries in the world.

By 1945, Robert Edmund Harrell had successfully taken over the United States of America. However, his action were being noticed by many people from around the world. A group formed called POTATO.

This is a rough draft. More to come. Names changed to protect the hilarious.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"I'm Going to Study Really Hard for My Vocab Quiz . . .

. . . so I can take it fast and get to work on the zombies." - Student R.

Yesterday, I introduced a modified version of my father's Zombie Apocalypse project. Students work in teams to plan reasonably for the impeding zombie apocalypse. We assume they will have one hour to prepare for an onslaught of Romero-style zombies. They will write 500-word essays and make a group presentation on Monday. Each group has a copy of The Zombie Surival Guide (thanks, friends!), Florida's zombie apocalypse plan, and links to sites such as the CDC's zombie blog.

The students are quietly working in groups, asking questions, working until the bell rings. Why can't every week be Zombie Week? Any other ideas for projects that are similarly engaging?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Although my colleagues warned me ahead of time, I became a little disappointed at the low turnout for parent-teacher conferences at the end of this week. Eight parents (about two-thirds with their student) came to visit over two days of conferences (scheduled at different times to accommodate any parent working any shift). I just can't help but think, like many things in public education, there must be a better way.

I'm not sure what that better way might look like, though. I know that some schools often hold conferences at large employers in the community, but how would that work for parents who don't work there? We have a place like that in the community I teach and they often partner with the schools, but it doesn't sound like a satisfying, simple answer to me. One of our wonderful APs called the parent of every kid sitting on a D or F average in any class, so you'd think that would jump start some conferences. And I will say that out of those eight parents who showed up, five had kids who were in danger of failing. I also made sure to talk up the conferences in every note I've mailed home in the last month and called the parents of kids who seem to struggle the most.

The student-teacher across the hall said that when her daughter was in elementary school, she went to conferences all the time, but kind of tapered off as she got into high school. And she couldn't decide if she had done the right thing or not. What's the appropriate level of parental involvement? Does not coming to conference night mean you don't care? Should we have our conferences somewhere else in the community people feel more comfortable attending? For our community, the school really is a community center of sorts, so I'm not sure that's the solution.

Dear readers, if I have any, I am interested to hear what you think. How do we re-imagine the parent-teacher conference to make it worthwhile for student success?

Monday, October 17, 2011

You Win Some?

So, today a couple of things worth blogging about happened. Also, since I've broken my foot, my after-school activities have been severely curtailed and leave some space for blogging. Little blessings?

Anyone who works with teenagers knows that it's a constant battle to keep them from saying gay or retard in a derogatory way. A lot of teachers give up. But I can't. Maybe it's the thought of my wonderful younger brother standing proudly as his class's homecoming rep last year. Maybe it's all of the people who happen to be gay who have loved me in my life. But I can't let these words go. If my job is to teach kids that words have meaning and power, then I think I have to show them how using words negatively can affect people around them. So, I don't allow those words in my classroom. I try not to be mean about it and I give kids a chance to rephrase, but I never, ever let them slide (when I hear them). Today, one of the eleventh grade girls who rarely gives me a lick of trouble busted out the r-word. I was shocked and surprised, but she immediately corrected herself, and I forgot all about it. After class, she came up to me nearly in tears apologizing for how disrespectful she'd been. I mean, I couldn't even remember what she had to apologize for, but it was obviously weighing on her. I'm sorry she felt so upset, but it's kind of nice to see kids Getting It -- especially when the It is something bigger than worrying about their SOLs tomorrow.

I've also started to notice that I'm not exhausted when I come home in the afternoons any more. I still stay at school till around five most afternoons, but when I get home I still feel alert enough to enjoy something besides hiding under my covers and watching Glee on Hulu (still eight days behind). This increased energy seems like a huge victory. I can't wait to take advantage of it when I'm back to being a biped.

Today did have its absurd moments, however. After school, I had a phone call from an irate parent demanding to know why I hadn't held any practices for the male cheerleaders who are supposed to perform at the pep rally on Thursday. After patiently explaining that I had tried three times to reschedule after breaking my foot and no kids had showed up, she explained to me that was because I wasn't holding my practices at eight o'clock at night after all the other commitments had ended. Now, I know the juniors have met after school and I really can't imagine my very wonderful administration expecting me to have practice for a fake team at eight at night on top of all the other things a first year teacher gets to experience.

I didn't tell her this, of course, I just let her volunteer herself into practicing with the kids at night and turning a video into me. I hope this works out because I'm a little preoccupied with the testing, conferences, and other duties of actually teaching coming up this week. Please say a little prayer for my eleventh graders taking their SOLs tomorrow and Wednesday. Mostly pray that they don't lose focus halfway through the test and can keep it together long enough to get the pass advance I know each of them has inside themselves.