September 15, 2010

This is why it is not OK to call each other Nazis...

It is the perfect time to visit St. Louis right now (hint, hint). The humidity is gone, the rainy season hasn't started yet, the smell of BBQ still lingers in the air, the mosquitoes have gone into hibernation or whatever they do, and the leaves are turning ever so slowly, leaf by leaf, into their majestic shades of fall. If anyone reading this ever decides to make a visit out here to the middle earth of America, make sure you visit in September or May: these are the months of pleasant comfort and ease here in the Lu. Otherwise, it is a land of extremes. Extreme heat and sweating in a humid state of consciousness where no amount of water can cool you down or uber-extreme-freeze-your-nose-off cold. The mid-west is such a wacky weather wonder land.
The school year is in full swing, with four weeks in the bag and a fifth one on the way. We have started reading the novel Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, an excellent story that describes how the one country in Europe to save the great majority of their Jewish population during the Holocaust (Denmark) went about this grand resistance against the forces of evil under the banner of a swastika. While this topic has led to many interesting conversations about racism and just how much a million really is, it has also led to a select few students calling each other Nazis. While this may be disheartening, they are still young enough to be chastised and frightened into never doing that again. In other words, those students got a "Feel my WRATH" talking to.
If I have realized anything as a 6th grade teacher, I have realized their need for structure and constant direction. It's great to let my students be creative, drawing beautiful, squiggly pictures of what they see in their minds while reading, or amazing paragraphs about inventions to keep you dry if rain sprayed up from the ground instead of falling to it. However, if I let them go too much, they will go in directions I never even thought possible (for example, my Twitter board for random questions sees things like 'If I jumped out the window and used my sheet of paper as a parachute, would I survive the fall?' This is extremely funny because I work in a one-story building). If I let them know my expectations consistently (as in every five seconds), they behave and do their work and learn and show me I can have faith in the future. They just need to be reminded of what is appropriate, and once they understand that, oh the places we go...
I can literally see their minds growing out of a concrete, self centered stage, into an awareness of the world, their effect upon it and all the wonders in it. It is glorious. I am truly excited for this year, mostly because most of my kids have an innate desire to read, but also because of the concrete data I have collected. My students took their first test, mastering with well above 80% on all the standards for the first unit, their reading scores are extremely high, and I have three times as many Advanced/Proficient students on the fifth grade MAP in my classroom than I did last year. Things are looking up my friends. I think I can make leaps and bounds with this group of academic whizzes this year, and while I know most of it will be coming from the students, I feel really positive about myself too (though there is still far to go, I think I have an idea of how to get there). Even if I still have a gaping hole in my bathroom ceiling. See below.

Ah, the fun of renting. My own personal water feature- a waterfall right next to the shower. Just what I have always wanted. Someday, this will be fixed, and I would like to take this time to thank my entire immediate family for listening to me complain, moan, and groan over the phone as I dealt with yellow water dripping on my head and maintenance guy telling me "It's not like it will hurt you or anything" when I called to report the problem. But hey, at least I've got running water right? In fact, I've got many different types of running water...I'm very lucky to have the home that I have, even with the inconvenience of a black hole over my toilet. Gotta love those moments of clarity that only an upside down water fountain in your bathroom can bring.

September 5, 2010

Starting my Second Year!!

Three weeks into the school year: memorized my students names; classroom procedures are getting to be more familiar (at least to me); I finally have my classroom set up; already got a cold from somebody at school; my apartment looks more organized now that I have purchased book shelves; and my cat attacked my face (That last part was due to me rolling over her while I slept).
It’s been quite a while since last I wrote and many, many, many, many things have happened, all of which are extremely important to me, but which might put you to sleep should I list them all ;-) Here are the drop-your-jaw-too-cool-to-pass-up things. I am now an aunt and my niece Monica Rose Elder is the cutest little, or rather large, baby. I traveled 7,653 miles from one coast to the other, to visit family, friends and beautiful places. And now, in my 23rd year of life, I am teaching for my second year.
So far it has been a year of big changes and a reassuring sense of ‘I know what I’m doing more than I did a year ago.’ I now teach 53 students (26 in one and 27 in the other), which is less than last year, but strangely, I teach more. I teach two 100 minute reading classes, and then the same students for 50 minutes of writing. I believe that this schedule will REALLY increase the students’ scores on the MAP (Missouri’s standardized test), and I’m enjoying teaching the same students twice. I really enjoy my classes this year, and so far, have only had two major problems. Out of 53, that’s pretty good odds.
Speaking of MAP scores, in August I received the scores of my students from last year (cause getting the scores 5 months after they take the test makes a whole lot of sense ;-). While my students gained an average of 1.4 years of reading growth, the MAP scores were kind of…depressing. Two years ago, 20% of the 6th graders at Busch achieved an advanced or proficient score on the MAP. WHAT?!? 20%!?! Well, thinking to myself, my students must have done better than that right? Um...I can say honestly that the score did grow, but it makes me grimace to acknowledge that they only grew 6%. Yes. Only 26% of my sixth graders passed the state standardized test, and I was told that I did a good job. Ugh…ugh…ugh…
Who knows how much my students actually grew from last year, because they all came from different schools and data does not follow students. There are no files. So, honestly, the MAP average I received only tells me that I did 6% better than the 6th grade teacher from two years ago. Whoop whoop. On average, the entire school of Busch did better and we actually met AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) this year in every subject except special education (we’re working on that). However, if 26% is considered ‘good enough’ then I am sorry, there is something wrong. This year, I KNOW deep within that this score is going WAY up this year. I’ve got a great group of reading loving students and a huge amount of time with them every day, so there are no excuses.
For every good change (such as more time with students), there has to be something given up. Art, music, shop and computer classes don’t exist anymore at the elementary and middle school level and in only limited amounts for high schoolers. Students simply have to supplement their education outside of school, if they can. The staff this year is awesome and very positive though moral in the district is pretty low due to budget cuts and layoffs. Out of the entire St. Louis Public School District, Busch Middle School of Character and Athletics (yeah, yeah, the name is interesting to say the least) is the BEST place to be teaching. There are many days when I stop in my tracks and thank God for my job at my school. It really is, amid all the bad, a very great place to work.
I’ve included a few cartoons with this post that seem to capture everything I’m feeling right now. A picture says a thousand words, but a cartoon says it with a smile. I just made that up myself.