Sunday, April 13, 2014

End of Break = Sadness

I am not ready for Spring Break to be over. Not ready at all!

My break started April 3 at 3:30 officially although I didn't leave school until about 5:45. A colleague of mine who signed on to sell Thirty-One with me and I went to the Summer Premiere together that night. It was super fun and a great way to start our break :) 

Over the next week, I did a lot of relaxing, we went out a couple of times but mostly stayed home and just did whatever we wanted (read: hanging out in PJs all day, reading books, playing Sims 3, etc). It was fabulous. 

Yesterday we went to the zoo and it started raining but I brought my umbrella so it was fine. It was kind of a bummer because the weather was GORGEOUS when I was at the gym in the morning and then it got crappy. It was the warmest day of the week too. Rude. Last night we had a couple of big storms roll through and knock down lots of trees and power for about 12 hours. It came back on around 6:30 this morning just in time for another storm to come through. (Gotta love spring in Michigan!)

I have to admit that I have to dig out the grading I didn't quite finish on the 3rd and get it done so I'm all set for tomorrow. Kinda don't want to though. Denial, much? :)

Of course I love what I do. It's all I have ever really wanted to do (well besides write)...but sometimes, I'm tired. Tired of politics, tired of drama. I think this year is worse than most years because we had SUCH a long winter and we get a teaser of a couple of nice days and then its supposed to be 49 and then 39 the first two days back. Seriously?? SNOW is in the forecast even though today's high is 66. I'm over snow and never want to see it again (well at least not until Christmas). Ugh.

It's only a four day week though so that's good. No recess duty for me (again) because I have it on Friday and we have no school haha :) I am meeting my fall TA on Wednesday morning and that's something to be happy about. I'm really excited to meet her. She may well hang out for awhile in my room on Wednesday which is fine with me. It'll be good for her to see how things work in my room after procedures and expectations have been put into place for most of the year. 

I did my TA in the winter so I just slipped in and helped with what my CT already had in place. I've never had anyone in the fall so that will be interesting. I tend to be kind of fussy about how I do things so I have to remember that she is learning. Of course in the TA semester their job is to come in and basically assist....but I want her to feel like she has a say in what happens in my room too. After all, I hated my student teacher's idea of a Homework Hotspot last year but I use it this year....I guess I shouldn't say I hated the idea, I hated how we set it up. We were so limited with wall space and I did not like how we had to do it...but this year I found a 27 pocket organizer that hangs on the window by the door and it works fabulously. So you never know...she influenced me more than she probably realizes. I'm sure  my TA will bring something new to the table as well. 

I think I just want to be sad because it's a gloomy day and I don't want to get up early and go to work tomorrow haha

The Caffeinated Teacher

Monday, April 7, 2014

Morals + Foot Art

Ever notice how sometimes when you think things are going exactly how you want, but then something happens and you realize that you had the proverbial wool pulled over your eyes?

I've experienced that lately. I'm not happy. I love what I do and I love where I'm doing it....but things have come to my attention lately that I am totally against. I'm pretty damn straight-forward. What you see is what you get. I will fight for you, I will defend you and I will take my last breath sticking up for what I think is right, especially when it impacts children. I will do this until you cross me or you do something so immoral that I lose all respect for you. Pretty much, once you lose it, you won't get it back. Ever. I tend to hold a grudge, big time. Even when I have tried to let that part of me certain situations, I can't. When it involves morals...there is no going back. I can tolerate just about anything, but I certainly won't be on your side if I believe you have compromised your morals (or tried to compromise mine), regardless of the reason. It's one thing I absolutely can not and will not forgive.

If you would compromise your morals to throw someone else under the bus, it's not cool. I don't care what it's about, it's just wrong. As such, however, sometimes this happens and I don't know what to do with the information. Do I say something? Do I shut up and file it away? I just don't know and it makes me angry, mad, irritable and just downright feel lost. It's a crappy feeling to have.

I'm hopeful that over Spring Break, I can clear my head about it. It bothers me enough that I haven't been able to just let it go. It's hard. I want to do the right thing but I also don't want to stick my foot in the fire if I don't need to.

Where is a magic wand when you need one??? I could just wave that baby and everything would be fabulous ;)

As is normal in my posts of late...two topics in one because that's how I roll. :) On Friday, the first day of Spring Break, I pampered myself. I got a fabulous pedicure and then went and did some foot art. Fabulous, no? Honestly it did not hurt nearly as much as my wrists...having it done felt like a bee stung me repeatedly and my foot ached for about 2 hours afterward but it's been absolutely fine since. I LOVE this. It's my favorite of all of my tattoos.

I have to say that I think the left foot is feeling mighty jealous though. It has no ink. Look how lonely it looks! The Husband thinks I'm a freak (he has zero tattoos and won't get any) but now that I see how awesome my Phoenix looks....I really want to put something on the other foot. I just don't know what yet.

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cash and Carry

Are you a Thirty-One lover like I am? I have a bunch of items listed as Cash and Carry in my private FB group that I am just dying to get rid of. Some are already retired prints/items, some will be as of April 30th. 

If you're interested, please check out my private group here. (You have to be approved to join but request to join and I'll add you.) You have to pay for shipping but all of the products (except two) are listed below what I paid for them. All of them are either brand new, never used or brand new, display use only. 
I am DETERMINED to get these out of my house to prepare for the new product line so prices could be negotiable depending upon the item. Check it out!

The Caffeinated Teacher

Friday, April 4, 2014

31 + FINALLY Spring Break!

Thank the good Lord we are FINALLY on Spring Break. Seriously, there may have been bloodshed if we had had one more day. My patience as of yesterday was exactly NIL. My students weren't naughty or anything, just totally forgot to put their brains in every morning. Holy cow, it was like pulling teeth to get them to do any kind of thinking whatsoever when it really mattered. I thought I was going to lose my mind (and that they might lose their little heads because I was so fed up).

But thankfully, that is all behind me and I have 10 entire days to RE-LAX. wEWt! I am not traveling for break at all, just staying home. Fine by me. Relaxation it is. Although I do think I am going to get my tattoo done finally...hopefully the weather stays warm enough for me to wear sandals so my foot can heal.

I got to start my Spring Break in the coolest way possible -- a Thirty-One summer catalog premiere! Oh my goodness, I am so excited for this new catalog. Even more excited because I am going to be earning the Ready, Set, Sell incentive and therefore will be getting a bunch of new product from the new summer collection for FREE. Seriously they have outdone themselves this time, I think. 

I can't wait to get my hands on these new products and carry them around with me. I will be clearing out my current product display and will have a bunch more stuff to add to my Cash and Carry box since it's not a good idea to display prints that people can no longer buy.  

I was supposed to have a party tomorrow but the hostess's grandma passed away :( So sad. She rescheduled it but now I have 3 parties in the same weekend and may want to stab myself in the eye afterward! It's not like it's a hard job its just time consuming and can take a lot out of you. Oh well, at least I know one weekend in April will be full of fun :)

The Caffeinated Teacher

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's + Frog Games + Currently

Happy April Fool's Day! One of my colleagues was posting on FaceBook last night that she wanted to pull some pranks on her kids but was afraid she would just giggle the whole time. I told her she needed to embrace her inner Queen Wood and learn to be straight faced. (Last year when my student teacher was teaching on the American Revolution, she wanted to do a simulation of the tax acts and I said I would be "King George" aka, Queen Wood. We were doing an economy unit and the kids had class cash and I charged them for everything. Breathing, smiling, looking out the window. I mean I laid it on thick. And totally kept a straight face the whole time. Those poor kids probably thought I had lost my ever loving mind. It was epic, they learned how the colonists felt and the following day I brought them cookies for being such good sports about my brief psychosis haha!).

I went all morning (which is 4 hours before a break) without doing anything...and then after lunch I pulled my prank. It was awesome. We've had paper concerns at our school lately and the kids knew only because I had told them last week (before the issue was resolved) that I couldn't make separate copies of one packet for everyone because we needed to conserve paper. So I went along with this and asked them, very seriously, to take their chair pockets off their chairs and put them on their desks. I said, "Friends, you know how we have had paper shortages? Would you believe there is a school in our district that has a chair shortage? I didn't know this but apparently there is and I just found out at lunch that we have to give up our chairs to share with them." They TOTALLY bought it and were stacking chairs and everything. Haha! Finally one of the kids in the back of the room yells out, "HEY, it's April Fools''re fooling....right?" the last part was so quiet and you could tell he was really hoping I was kidding. LOL I couldn't help but laugh and I had to admit that of course I was fooling them but that they believed me and I got them good ;) They are so silly. A Chair Shortage?? 

After my prank, we did some quick spelling practice and then I let them loose on my new Frog Game sets! When I was at the TL Conference in DC, I went to the exhibition hall and had to go to this table that had frog everything (seriously I have frogs everywhere in my room -- not live ones). They had their game sets for $68 instead of the usual $85 and I got them shipped home for free (I was afraid they wouldn't fit on the airplane carry-on). They arrived yesterday and I was so excited to use them. I had never heard of them but apparently we have some in our school. (I have discovered we have a ton of awesome things in our building that people hoard and don't share...they don't use them but they don't share them either. Lame.) Many of my kiddos knew how the games worked because they had used them with a tutor or in the after school program. Awesome because then I don't have to teach them the directions! They had a blast. I got a math set and a critical thinking set...because my kids can't think outside the box. At all. It's really sad and frustrating and I'm hoping this will help. I think we will do the math set tomorrow. We shall see.

Finally, my Currently for April :)

The Caffeinated Teacher

Monday, March 31, 2014

TLConf 2014: Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This post is in a series about my experience at the inaugural Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC March 13-15, 2014. These posts are not endorsed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards nor the fine folks at the Teaching and Learning Conference. They consist entirely of my opinion. To read all of the posts in this series, click here.
March 14, 2014
Charlotte Danielson - Teacher Evaluation

This session specifically focused upon Teacher Evaluation and the Common Core with the key focus: "Accountability and the Common Core: Are they Compatible?"

This was a panel session with Ms. Danielson, principals and National Board Certified Teachers. Below are my notes from this session.
It began with a picture on the screen of two trains colliding and the key focus question. Ms. Danielson pointed out that the Common Core and Accountability/Teacher Evaluation could be seen in one of two ways:

1) A train wreck (hence the picture)
2) Two huge, parallel initiatives
Let's see them as a Merger. This involves:
  • understanding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  • considering instructional implications
  • creating a version of the Framework for Teaching (FFT) that reflects teaching to and of the CCSS
Why assess Teacher Effectiveness?
  • ensure teacher quality
  • promote professional learning
Accountability is not enough. We have to move the curve [bell curve] of teaching so the majority are effective to highly effective. 
Evaluation system becomes a numbers game which is not what the systems were designed for.
"We have become trapped in a vortex of rating and ranking" -- Charlotte Danielson
The FFT is generic but CCSS are specific to a discipline/level
Most principals are experts at running a school but not at all pedagogical practices
Vast majority of teachers are at an acceptable level
Challenge becomes moving a few teachers from mediocre to good but moving many more from good to great--this will move the curve
Generic tool like this (the FFT) can and should be used for discharging Human Resource requirements of evaluation. We need to produce smaller, discipline specific tools for coaching rather than evaluation.  
Wyoming Accountability Act (shared by a panelist who is an NBCT)
  • Tying student achievement to Teacher of Record
  • adapted the Common Core at the same time and had to decide which was the most important to develop first
  • Teachers are stressed out wondering if their ranking will end up in the newspaper

Another NBCT on the panel proclaimed "My students are not a number. My teaching is not a number." (Amen, sista!)

What about teachers who are struggling? What about evaluators who are biased? (Sadly this has happened to teachers I know -- their administrator doesn't like them so they are basically found at fault for many things and/or given the short end of the stick. Grade Level Shuffle anyone??)

To truly change it all, we need coaches on site for all subject areas. Evaluations are, sadly, mostly punitive. 

What do we want our kids to be like when they graduate? Metacognitive and know-how in Arts/Technology 

PLC model -- you will get more out of it when you truly have some ownership in the model. We want to create reflective practitioners with reflection not tied to evaluation. 

Coaching so all teachers can see good teaching and transfer that teaching. Don't penalize teachers for trying something new that flops or doesn't go well. 

One panelist shared that  they use multiple raters (teacher colleagues) who observe, take notes, look at the evidence and then have a conversation to mutually determine the teacher's rating on that ONE lesson.

I have long said that in order for teacher evaluations to truly be meaningful, we need to let teacher's evaluate each other. I know that scares some people but think about it. I'm teaching 4th grade and have a 1st grade and 5th grade colleague come in to do my observation at the same time. They both take their own notes and after the observation they sit together and compare what they saw, the actual evidence they gathered and determine a rating for the teacher on that particular lesson only. I have always thought it was a total gyp to have my entire evaluation be based upon two measly observations. (My very first observation at my current school, when I started there 4 years ago, lasted 5 minutes. Seriously. 5 minutes. And my administrator wasn't in my room again until May when she did my last one. How do you know what I'm doing, ever, if you have no presence?)

People are afraid of this idea. I know they are...BUT I also know how much more effective it would be to truly have someone who does the same job I do all day evaluate a lesson I taught. No, maybe that 1st grade teacher wouldn't necessarily know my content or have any idea about teaching the big guys if s/he had never done it themselves, but they are in the trenches of teaching every day -- so much moreso than an administrator is -- and would be more realistic and have a better idea of current best practices. In addition that rating should ONLY reflect THAT LESSON. Because let's be real...we all have crappy days. I have had days as a teacher (even though with that coveted NBCT behind my name) where I know I wasn't at my best. I'm just a person. I'm not a miracle worker. I get worn down too. I wouldn't want an evaluation to show I was minimally effective or even ineffective because I had an off day and that's what they are getting at here. 

Honestly, while it's nice to hear something I did well during a lesson from someone else, I take the whole evaluation process with a grain of salt...because it usually has focused entirely upon rating me based upon ONE observation or TWO if I'm lucky. (Sidenote: not true this year, Mr. Principal visits our rooms quite often and leaves us notes about what he is seeing us do well or will leave a "wondering" if he isn't sure how what he saw is tied to anything meaningful. In other words, he doesn't want to walk by and see you randomly showing a movie mid-day which I wholeheartedly agree.)  I got dinged in one area on my evaluation this fall but I knew it was an area I've struggled with and I have busted my butt to improve it all year...and I did and will continue to do so. It was more because I knew that this thing was something that didn't need to be the way it was...had my admin been on my case about it, I probably would have viewed the whole thing differently. It was approached as a way for me to reflect on what I was doing and how. And I have made it a personal goal to do better there and I did. It wasn't punitive, it was a way for me to better what I'm doing for kids. That's how it should be always, everywhere but we know it isn't. (If it was, there would be no need for a session like this one.)

The Caffeinated Teacher

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sometimes you just gotta laugh + TA

Oh my goodness. Drama, drama, drama. This week was full of ups and downs to be sure. My ups were WAY ups. They were epic, they were awesome. The downs really sucked, as they tend to do. Usually my downs coincide with things that just tick me off because they are so stupid. And the biggest down this week was no exception.

Alas, I have chosen to a) ignore it and b) laugh about it...because truly, the whole situation is ridiculous. Not to mention the aftermath is ludicrous. I won't be pulled between parties. If you think that's how I roll...well, you don't know me very well. The whole thing just makes me shake my head and go "really?" So for once I decided to just shut up and not respond (a miracle in and of itself--you have noticed I'm slightly outspoken, right?). 

It was a pretty decent week other than the stupid drama. We just started our last marking period. I had a sit down with my 4th graders on Friday because we had our first reading test of the marking period and only 7 kids passed with a 70% or higher. I reminded them that they know if they don't do well, they are going to have to do it over so why wouldn't you put in your 100% best effort the first time?? I asked them if they like doing things twice. They all responded "no" but I pointed out that they must because I had a whole stack of tests that needed corrections. I also pointed out this wasn't the first time my stack has been that big.

They grumbled about doing the corrections at recess but they did them. They know how it works. I think I am going to employ this strategy from the get-go next year. Puts the accountability back on the kids (which is where it should be) and allows them to understand and truly get the notion of effort. Sadly, effort is a commodity that many of them have chosen not to possess. I know this is because we (as a society) just pass kids whether they are ready or not. This is why we have 11th graders who can't read or think. Then they barely graduate high school and can't get a job and on the cycle goes. It kills me because while research shows that retention doesn't help, as a society, we don't put any interventions in place that actually work to help these kids. (That's next on my "save the world agenda" FYI). 

Anyway, I'm hopeful this can really make them understand that YOU are in charge of your learning...because honey I can sing and dance all day up here but if YOU don't put in some effort, it makes no difference. None at all. You can have the best teacher in the entire world and still learn nothing if YOU don't do anything. I would bet  my salary on that. 

This is all on my mind because I found out Friday evening that I am getting a teacher assistant from a local university for the fall. Our school has generally worked with my alma mater only in terms of the students that we have in place to teacher assist and/or student teach. But recently this other large university reached out to our school and asked us if we'd like students from their school as well. I am way too particular to let a student teacher in my room in the fall, no way. I've only one had before and I was very lucky that her and I see eye-to-eye on many things and we got along great. I also had her winter/spring term. My management procedures were already well ingrained in my students by then so it was fine to let her try things...but I wouldn't be that flexible in the fall. I know this so I haven't ever requested a fall student teacher. (My understanding is, however, that this university, which isn't as large as my alma mater, doesn't do fall student teaching; the students TA in the fall and ST in the spring. I might be wrong but I think this is the only way they do it.) This is the best of both worlds I think because I'll have an extra pair of hands (useful especially because we have some high needs friends coming to 4th grade next year) but also because she won't be there full-time. 

I have requested a student teacher for the 2nd semester but it won't bother  me at all if I don't get someone. It can be so touch and go with someone else in your room. Obviously I've only had Jenna and she was awesome--like my little sister, honestly. We still talk all the time and she asks for my advice with job interviews and whatnot. Unfortunately, I have witnessed (more times than I care to admit) a student teacher/cooperating teacher relationship that wasn't what it should be. Some of my colleagues (current school and former schools I've taught in) expect a student teacher to come in 100% prepared to be a teacher. Uh, you do notice the word student in their title, right?? Of course it's easy for me to judge as an outsider but I've seen things that I think are beyond inappropriate and when I got Jenna last year, I told her that I would never tell her supervisor from the college anything about her that I wouldn't say to her personally. Open and honest communication and feedback (whether it's good or bad) is vital. And you can't assume that someone knows what you want them to do, you have to tell them explicitly, just like you would any other student.

I am glad that I have a TA, I think it will be a great learning experience for both of us (especially because I learned she is a language arts major like I was and is doing a minor in TESOL which is what my master's degree is in). Apparently they only do 10 hours per week over 2 days which is so weird to me. My university they are there every day for a half day. The 10/2 is a minimum so depending upon her schedule, I may ask her if she would like to come in MWF mornings. I think that would be the most helpful for me in terms of consistency but also in allowing her to take over a subject if she'd like to so that she's more prepared for her student teaching the following semester. Obviously this has to be discussed with her but in a perfect world, that's how it would all work out.

The Caffeinated Teacher