Friday, April 01, 2005


There has certainly been a recent theme these past 24 hours--contacting parents...

Open house was OK. It went about how the classes usually go--English 10 was frightening and difficult to read; Journalism was fun and with good feedback. Open house kind of worked like this.... The parents followed their son/daughter's schedule and went to each class. Ten minutes for class (the teacher gave a presentation) and six minutes passing time.

Our daily schedule:
1st Hour: Amy's English 10B (with Vicki Ryan, a special ed. instructor)
2nd Hour: Prep
3rd Hour: My English 10B
4th Hour: Amy's English 10B
5th Hour: My Journalism

At first, no one showed up for Amy's first hour. The three of us chatted for like seven minutes, then one parent showed up, so it was a kind of parent teacher conference with three people. It must have felt nice for her, knowing that three instructors were in the classroom. Actually, she was talking about how her son and her husband had read all of the Dan Brown books, so I did a big Barnes and Noble thing and recommended Harlan Coben (which isn't entirely the same--I don't know of any good recommendations after Dan Brown, but Coben seems to be a good bet). I figure if they're reading, they're reading. :)

Since I hadn't really observed so much from Amy's first hour, I went in to observe Krista Clercx's (Todd Clercx's wife, and the only reason why I point that out is so you can check out his website--he's the art teacher and just had an opening two weeks ago, which I heard went well--Krista's room is next to Amy's, and she's an English teacher) Communications class. As juniors/seniors, they have to pick one of three classes--Advanced Speech, Public Speaking, and her class, which is a standard communications class where they learn how to communicate well with others. Real life stuff. Krista did a really great job presenting it, especially with the randomness of having me in the room, having parents, and especially since one of the parents was the principal. She loves the class, so it probably wasn't so hard to sell! I found myself wanting to take the class. :) (I already had asked if I could observe some of her classes once I got into the groove of my own.)

Third hour was mine, and I had about four families come in. I explained the class, but I was clearly nervous. Part of it was that I have this ridiculous problem with overreacting to my audience's expression. One mother looked kind of skeptical at me and questioned one of my sets of dates... "So what are you doing for that month there?" I had written To Kill a Mockingbird 3/14-3/8, and it should have been 3/14-4/8, but another parent (a nice one--I should have made eye contact with him more often--his daughter is really nice too) said, "Oh, she meant April 8th." Whoops. I didn't have enough Expectations sheets; I hadn't expected to need to make a handout, but Amy had, so I pulled my extras and didn't have enough. So I guess making eye contact, in this case, threw me off.

Fourth hour was Amy's second English 10 section, and she had parents she had met before (from last trimester). There were a handful of families, and she seemed at ease, so I think that gave me confidence to go into the next one feeling more at ease.

Fifth hour was Journalism and I think it's easier to be enthusiastic about a class that is going well then a class that I'm struggling with. I had a lot of families come in, which was great, and they gave me a bit more positive energy in return--smiling and nodding as I explained what we were doing. They seemed pleased at the idea of putting the newsmagazines up on the internet, and Amy said one father even made a little gasp. One of the mothers shook my hand afterwards and told me that she could see there was a lot of great energy in this room. :)

Amy jumped in during both of my presentations, as I requested her to do (she doesn't when I'm teaching, unless I ask her a direct question, though some of the students still ask Amy questions they should ask me, like "Is there a vocabulary quiz today?", which is kind of funny). I think it worked well that she would jump in and add things so that the parents could tell that Amy is very much so a presense in this classroom, and I emphasized that she gives me a lot of great feedback to help shape the lessons.

One of the things that I think is interesting, looking back on meeting the parents and knowing my students, is how many of these students who have parents who grew up in another country or even these students whose childhood was spent in another country. I think that's great--what a fabulous resource for their peers to learn about these experiences! I've been trying to get the students to focus on the racism in Maycomb in my English 10 class, and I know a lot of those students can write about being a "person of color" and experiencing prejudice simply because of the color of their skin.

Today I gave them the assignment to write a letter to the editor from the point of view of one character--Jem, Scout, Atticus, Mrs. Dubose, Miss Maudie, the Ewells, etc.--and write about the racism in the town and the upcoming trial with Tom Robinson. I did have one student, the one on the IEP, raise his hand and say, "How can I write a letter to the editor when I don't believe in racism?" I wasn't sure how to respond to that. How can you not believe in it when it's present? I don't think that's quite what he meant--he wanted to say he wasn't racist, which I don't agree with because I think once you come into maturity, everyone is at least a little (or a lot, unfortunately!) racist. Case in point--worrying about presenting certain material and giving out a book with the "n-word" in it with two black students in my class. Racism isn't always negative, though often it is. I'm sure EM notices things and thinks things because of skin color. I told him to pick a character that he would like to write from his or her perspective, and we would work out the details for the letter together.

The other parental big thing that happened... it was time to call parents time.

I e-mailed one student's father, e-mailed the Hmong liason for another student, and called and left a message for another student's parents. These are the kids who have failed recent quizzes and have made it obvious that they're not doing the work. One student keeps coming up to me and saying, "I haven't read past chapter one. What do you want me to do with this assignment?" It happens at least twice in a class period, and often he'll come up to me some more and ask further questions... asking me if what he's doing on an assignment is correct, when he wouldn't have to ask that question if only he would just read the book. He seems like a nice enough person, but I've really gotten fed up with using up all of this time trying to help him figure out his priorities (finish your vocabulary sentences today because they're due, then just read because you won't be able to do the assignment until you have read the book). I even offered to lend him the tapes of the book so he could listen to it instead of having to read it. Anyway, his parents were called. I e-mailed another parent; Amy had the student last trimester, and she said his father gets involved, so it's better to contact him now. This student JMH, told me, after announcing the quiz after spring break, that there was no way he was going to read that much over break. He failed the reading quiz the next Monday. XH, the one who I contacted the liason for, has failed every quiz and filled in the sentence blanks on the first vocabularly quiz with, "These / are / too / many / words / for / a / one / week / test." This last vocabularly quiz was half as long, in respect to the fact that he was right--there were too many words for a one week quiz--but he left the sentences blank on this last one, and on the reading quiz, he only did the matching and sat in the hall the whole period, so I don't know what he was doing the whole time (Amy popped her head out and saw he was talking to someone, so she spoke to him about that--you're given this time, use it, etc.).

There are three more whose parents I may or may not contact depending on how class goes on Monday. I have a new seating chart, which I look forward to giving... I also re-did the Journalism seating chart, but not to keep trouble makers apart. Instead, I assigned them to sit with their newsgroups, but I am not going to be strict about where they sit. And I'll let the English 10's know that--we are really going to stick with this seating chart (or I will mark you absent), and I might let them pick their own later if they prove that they can behave. So far, they haven't. One kid, JM, continually chats with this group of girls, and he and his desk toppled over today because he was leaning so far. He was OK, but his ego was probably a little bruised. He looked kind of sheepish. And I think he wants to behave, but some of those girls get off track so easily and distract those around them. I've moved the especially difficult one to the front of the room. KK. Oy.

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