Thursday, April 21, 2005


I gave MS a card today, and asked him if the address I wrote down was correct for his family. I also want to send a card to them as well... I found out how his father died, and it breaks my heart. An accident--a stupid, awful accident. It just makes me think about how "unfair" these things seem to be. How little sense it all makes. And it brings me back to thinking about losing Yvonne.

And I gave him the card and he said thank you, and I could tell that he was completely sincere--I could hear that in his voice. And I said that I was so sorry again for his loss and that I understood and that I lost someone very close to me recently as well... He asked who, and I told him, and he looked so sad, but I couldn't really tell... he's a very hard kid to read. I asked him if he was OK, and he just kind of paused, but he said he was... I just wanted to give him a big hug, and I hate that I couldn't, though it is definitely good that I couldn't since I'm sure most people wouldn't want to be hugged by their teacher!!

He's coming in after school next Tuesday. I want to let him talk if he needs to talk. Maybe I'm wrong, though I think some people that are close to me might say I'm a fairly decent listener (Kelly? Back me up here?). But I'm not a counselor. (Hmm, maybe I should get my counseling license... then I can legally listen. This is so frustrating!!) I am, however, a human being. And I'm not far from a staggering loss (though not the same--I cannot imagine the condition I would be in if I lost one of my parents--I don't even want to begin to imagine!). I will have to talk to Amy about all of this to make sure I am behaving in an appropriate manner. She gives her students a generic card, so my own card I picked up at work was appropriate. But then what? Because he's a chatty kind of guy and when he knew, he came right up and said, "My father died this weekend, and I want to make sure my absense was excused." I want to say, "Don't worry about that right now!! Process what's going on..." His mother is going to be gone for an entire month while she accompanies his body back to Africa. His older brother, a senior at the school, is in charge; he also has a sister in 9th grade. He was worried about how to get a ride to and from school to get school things taken care of...

What do I do?

I think this is an indication that I like my students too much. :) For example, on a more light hearted note... I have two students, JR and MH, that have stayed after before and feature in this blog previously, I believe. They're goofy and chatty and would get through one assignment in the hour they stayed after. Both not doing so well (OK, failing), but they're getting some stuff done. They have just finished reading Inherit the Wind and I've been copying Amy's unit out of exhaustion, because she does it well, and because the students enjoyed it. Two assignments... the first required them to do a line reading. They had two choices to get an "A": Perfect memorization or performance with props or costumes, obvious practice, and actual acting (though it doesn't have to be "good"). JR and MH did their lines together and at one point they had to hand a "Bible" to the other character and MH passed it and JR didn't quite grab it, so it fell to the floor... Not really a funny moment in the telling, but if you knew their personalities and saw their expressions... I seriously couldn't stop giggling. Luckily, one has two choices in m laugh--silent or kind of loud and dumb. It was the silent one this time, but goodness gracious... I realized this pair I would miss a great deal as well.

Which got me thinking about that whole last week / last day thing. What if I cry? Especially on the seniors' last day? How pathetic is that? How can I make sure that I don't cry? (Is this really something I need to worry about at this point?)

New topic.

Class sizes are too large. I realize that too many of my students aren't doing very well, and some of them are seniors. I am going to call some more parents (do I have to?), but I want them to have a kind of heads up. Actually, most of them know it is coming; I already did a song-and-dance lecture, and many students knew I would have to call. There are some people who are exceptions... MS whose father died and mother will be gone for a month (calling won't help), HS whose parents have kicked her out and she's living with a boyfriend (according to her).

I had an activity in my Journalism class where they had to interview each other to write a practice feature. This was the best assignment I have had so far, for me. I was able to get to know so many details about my students! Some things I knew already... JP likes motorcross, SO is politically active, AB is the star sports player, etc. But some things were new--LP's respect for her family, KS's involvement in BMX (which forged a pseudo bond, given my friend Jeff's involvement--I was able to say, "Oh, my friend digs that whole biking thing... lordy how many videos I have had to watch...").

OK, seriously. The key to getting students' respect and making the classroom environment more comfortable... it's those personal connections! It's easier now for me because I'm younger. I can talk about tattoos and BMXing and college life because it's right here, a part of me now. I need to take advantage of that, but use it to make myself a good role model. I have that card right now... It's not going to last. :) That whole aging thing...

Which leads me to a little form I created tonight. I know that students need to be updated regularly on their progress. It's available online for my students, though I know a lot of them might not check it. So I have decided to fight this not-turning-in-homework thing on a duel front--one, make one of those pass-around-the-room grade sheets with ID numbers (or made up names) and give them a form. I want to talk to each of these people, but the class size and the time frame doesn't allow it. So I adapted this frame from tonight's seminar chat... I will print it out on a half-sheet and try to give it to the students once a week.

One more tips before I get to the form:

One, once something is turned in, check mark it in the grade book if you don't have time to grade it. This way, you will know who has missing work and who doesn't. Grade it as soon as possible though. Things pile up. Wait, I think I will make that #29 in that list I started a while back. (Um, does last month count as a while back? Go back a month and a half. Who am I? A very different person.)

OK, here is the form I'm going to fill out for each student and make into a routine:

I want to give you some kind of progress report, but I don’t want it just to be about numbers. Monday is mid-term grades day, so your parents will be able to access very up-to-date grades for you. I think it’s important that you are able to get an idea of what’s in store as far as that goes, but also let you know what your strengths are.

Here’s what you are doing well, so keep it up!:

Here’s what you can do to improve:

Thus far, here are some missing assignments:

We will also start to institute a Friday reflection day. Not only will I give you this form on a regular basis, but I also want you to answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  1. Something I have learned this week.
  2. Something that confuses me.
  3. Something I want the teacher to know.

The last part, their own reflection, is an adaptation from my lovely cohort friends Scott and Heidi. They teach at Maplewood HS (would be kind of nice to teach at a school with a fellow U of MNer--they teach in Maplewood along with Adrien and Sonja is at the middle school), and this is a regular Friday thing--four times in one tri. For some, the students can just choose which three Fridays they turn in that assignment. For others, the teacher gives them five or ten minutes to write it out and turn it in. I'm thinking every other Friday might be good. Some weeks are laden with videos and tests. How would they learn anything that week? :) Some weeks I would want to do it twice, but I wouldn't do that... they already write in journals, which turns out to be a great form of reflection. I have gotten to know some of those students so well; one of which I am having a dialogue with in recommending books. I am definitely putting Peace Like a River at the top of my reading list, and she has put a few authors into her bank of summer reading as well.

Actually, one of my students has asked about my extra credit offer. A book talk. :) Adapted from Mrs. Suda's extra credit project at Preble High School, this extra credit opportunity allows students to read a book and do a book talk with me before or after school. I thought I could do any book for them, so they have the choice, but they could look it up on the internet and come and chat with me. So Amy suggested that I make a list of all the books I have read recently (good thing for them, I'm a reader, so they have lots of options!) and they can choose from those. The only book checked out (by BK in my English 10 class) is Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging. I haven't read it yet, but my peers spoke highly of it (funny! was the main comment) during the Young Adult Literature class, taught by the absolutely fabulous Dawn Hansen. I just requested it at the library. If it's good enough, I might have to pick up a copy for my own classroom. I'm going to have to bring in some of my own books so that the students aren't borrowing Amy's copies. I know that books have a way of not finding their way back, and although I'm willing, I don't want to have to replace her books for her. I'd rather my students respect the check-out system.

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