School is over a month away, but let’s put out school supplies! – Wal-Mart

With school supplies showing up at my local Wal-Mart (because they must get out the Christmas decoration by October and will need the room), my school nightmares have returned.

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My basic nightmare begins in a classroom of people held against their will where no one will listen to me…you know, almost like a real school day.   The administration has taken away my classroom for my conference period (which isn’t all that of a stretch as they did it last year to use my room for another class) and I have to tromp to the woods by the football stadium to find my used KOA cabin that is now my conference room. I glance into the woods, and the road to my cabin is muddy and full of pot holes. (Symbolism much?) Then, I’m called to the Principal’s office where a parent has reported me for calling them a lint ball. As punishment, I have to pull staples out of the world’s longest bulletin board with a toothpick.

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I wake up in a cold sweat.

Back to school is always a mix of good and bad feelings. You get a new start, with new kids and you look forward to getting to know them and being able to visit with your co-workers again.  On the flip side, you have to get up early, wear actual clothes not made of sweat pant material, and fight off the first month illness that you always get when surrounded by new germs, eh, kids.

Several of my friends are new to teaching this year and have asked me to make them a list of what they will need to stock their desks and classrooms. In response, I have written some of the longest text messages known to mankind…they’re probably still being sent as we speak.  As I waited to hear the ‘sent’ beep, the thought occurred to me that it would have been nice, when I started, to know what I needed to have on hand. Thus, this super fantastic and descriptive blog.

Keep in mind your audience and your age group. Obviously 1st graders don’t need pointed scissors around and 8th graders, although some may disagree, wouldn’t benefit from a sleeping mat (but their teachers might).  Some school districts, if you are one of the lucky few, provide all supplies for teachers and may have a supply closet where you can retrieve extra things. (If you are one of these people, be thankful and let me know if the Unicorn is pretty).  Most will give you a budget of around $100 to buy things from their warehouse.  The bulk of what 1st time teachers, heck, all teachers, need to start a school year, generally falls on them.

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Upside, you can claim about $200 on your taxes. Also, once you teach for a while, you’ll find that you’ll need less and less and are replacing only consumables. The downside, the $200 barely covers tax for what you end up spending sometimes, especially if you try to furnish your own room, except for desks.

Tips: Stores such as Joanne’s Fabrics, Office Depot, Walgreens and CVS have discount/loyalty cards that you can get for free which give you discounts or offer rebates to teachers. You can also create a page on http://www.adoptaclassroom.com and ask people you know if they would be willing to donate a few bucks to help you get started.  Also, start saving Boxtops off General Mills products. Each one is worth 10 cents and once submitted in groups of 50, earn you a check that you can spend on supplies. Two submission dates: October and February. Check with your campus to see if someone is in charge of this and, if not, you can register your school at www.boxtopsforeducation.com .

Okay, to the list. In general, you will need the following to stock your desk and room:

  • Pencils and sharpener (You may want to invest in a good sharpener right off the bat. Many of the ones attached to the wall are more successful at eating pencils than actually sharpening them.

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  • Pens (Red, blue and black)
  • Notebook paper and/or legal pad and/or spiral or composition book (I use a comp book to document discipline and the others for writing down ideas or information at staff meetings [doodling])
  • Binders (If you’d like to keep hard copies of lessons in these)
  • White Out
  • Expo markers and erasers
  • Stapler, staples, staple puller (Usually 2 staplers – 1 for you and 1 for the students)
  • Notecards (Trust me. They come in handy for different things)
  • Rubber bands
  • Clip board
  • Map Colors/Markers/Highlighters/Crayons
  • Glue stick

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  • Ruler/Meter stick
  • Post it notes
  • Band-Aids
  • Scissors (Get a good pair)

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  • Calculator
  • Masking Tape
  • Transparent tape and dispenser
  • Sharpies
  • Sliding E-Z grader (Can be found at most school supply places or online)
  • Eraser Caps/Big Eraser
  • Baskets or boxes for storage

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  • Manila file folders/hanging folders
  • Kleenex
  • Lysol wipes (For all things dirty)
  • Baby wipes (Come in handy for dirty hands that can’t use sanitizer)
  • Pledge and a duster (Kids make dust like Pig Pen from Snoopy)

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  • Paper towels
  • Personal items like deodorant, toothbrush and paste, hair brush etc. because there are some mornings when things are forgotten or not done well.

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  • Comfortable elevated chair (You might work up to this purchase, but it’s well worth it to rest your feet and still be able to see everyone)
  • Ball of yarn (Lost lanyards, name tag holder, etc)
  • Small umbrella (For those days when the sky’s bottom drops out and you parked at the back of the lot)
  • Latex gloves (A few pairs should do…you never know. I wore them when I cleaned desks where kids with lice had sat)
  • Personal decorating (This is where it can get pricy – fabric, curtains, posters, etc.) This is up to you.

 

I think I covered most of it. Again, these are the basics I keep on hand in my room.  Don’t be overwhelmed. A lot of this you probably have hanging around your house, in the garage or in your junk drawer or craft room.  Once you request the kids to bring their items, you can add to yours over the course of the school year and be able to buy less the following year.

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Most school supplies are on sale from July – end of August. After this time, they can double in price. In other words: Get them while the getting’s good! Have fun shopping, go sign up for those discount cards and get your goodies now!

 

 

Standardized Testing: The Highs, the Lows and the Stash of Chocolate

If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, let me tell you now: Covet thy chocolate. Have an extra stash somewhere in your room, because you never know when the moment may arise for a Hershey Bar.  I’ve had a stash of gummy bears this year, and I don’t get the same experience with them as I do with my cocoa beans.

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I needed my chocolate, desperately, beginning in the last of March until this week.

“Why”, you may ask? Any teacher in Texas will tell you: STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) Tests. These are also know as ‘The Damn STAAR Test”, “Those Standardized Tests”, “Non-Instructional Days”, “Today calls for a Xanex”,  and “Sign Here. Good Luck”.

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Planning for this test began, and I kid you not, the previous May when last year’s test results showed up. We spend all summer in workshops (no, contrary to popular belief, we DON’T get 3 months off with nothing to do) contemplating the ‘how’s’, the ‘whys’, and the ‘what the heck happend’s’.  We look at data by grade, by test, by teacher, by department, by question, by question type,  by state requirement, by student, by ability level, by District, by school. And what do we come up with? Someone, somewhere comes forward with a ‘new’ idea that is going to help our kids ‘beat’ this test, knowing full well, no one really knows what’s on it for sure and that it changes every year.  In short, we are taught new ways to essentially ‘teach the test’.

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Now, being in education as both a student and teacher for many years now, I can say that I truly believe that a well rounded education aids in a person’s ability to problem-solve and draw conclusions. I sometimes feel, as I know others do as well, that in an effort to make sure that education is equal and all are learning a certain set of standards, this process has created a generation of people who are quite adept at bubbling in ‘A’ or ‘When in doubt, C it out’, and less adept at simple decision making and the application of learning to their lives. (WHOLE other blog this could be)…

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This year was not different for me. I made sure I covered everything the State said they needed to know. In order to get this down, especially with my lower level classes, we didn’t have time to take a lot of tangents, or stop often and test a hypothesis (where I think real learning takes place when kids get to see why something does/doesn’t work).  I followed the prescribed lesson plan format, I administered the 3 common assessments we are required to give EVERY 6 weeks (no I’m not joking), and I retaught and cycled back in things they scored low on. These are all good teaching methods, but when you feel like your hands are tied and are constantly reminded that the kids ‘don’t need to know that for the test’, you sometimes wonder where the priorities really are.  Now, some people will argue and say that ‘No, we don’t teach a test to kids’. I can’t speak for everywhere else, but I know in my neck of the woods, if you teach an age group that’s tested, you try your best to get in the real special extras, but you do focus on what’s going to be on that test so sayeth the State.

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I stood in the back of the room as I ‘actively monitored’ 4 different tests at 4 hours each, and I felt the compassion I always feel for my kids as they work away, and with it was mixed a twinge of guilt. The cold brick against my back, I realized that I had done them no favors by not teaching them Science in a way that I knew would undoubtedly inspire a love of learning.  Just like the hard wall I was leaning on, I felt a barrier between the teacher I knew I could be and that I wanted to be, and what was expected of me by local test standards.  I would have loved to take them outside to look at our impact on the environment, to spend a semester doing a weekly examination of the decomposition of a McDonald’s hamburger,  or to have taken a field trip to our local Edison Museum.  There was never time after all I was required to do in relation to test prep and I was always told “it’s not on the test”.

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As focused as we were made to be on scores, we taught the kids to do a ‘data dump’. Sounds charming, I know, but for weeks prior to the test, we worked on getting that formula chart out of the test and once they were told to begin, to ‘dump’ everything that had learned this year on the formula chart. Moon phases, acronyms, signs of a hurricane, atoms, Newton’s laws, tides…we went over and over that, thinking full well, only some would do it. The day of the test, when they were told “If there are no other questions, you may begin”, an amazing thing happened. 95% of all 8th graders on my campus used this technique and they wrote down everything they could think of. My 2 8th grade coworkers and I had people come up to us after the test and basically state, “I don’t know what you taught those kids, but I have never seen a group do that before or be so eager to take a test”.

My happiest day of the year was the day following the test, not because testing was over (that was good too), but because I could tell the kids with absolute sincerity that pass or fail, because they had obviously translated all their learning and did what I asked, that I was proud of them. That’s all a teacher can ask for (especially when you’re working with teenagers).

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In real life, we face tests of a sort everyday. Some we pass, while others we fail or barely skirt by.  It’s not really about always getting it ‘right’. It’s about the lessons we learn along the way. I am not against standardized testing to see where certain deficits lie and what could be improved. What I am against is the stifling of a group of extraordinary people known as teachers who want kids to love learning as much as they do. We are a diverse, bright, skilled group of people. I wish the people who focused only on tests and test results could see that we would get the job done, and, if left to our own devices, would even leave them pleasantly surprised.

 

 

The Porridge Goldilocks Ate and Parental Involvement

I know. You’re wondering where I’m going with this. I’m hoping we all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Long story short: broke into a home in the forest, ate some food that wasn’t hers and went to sleep. Awoken by bears and ran away. The end.

Let’s face it: In this day and age, she would have been booked for breaking and entering, trespassing and theft. However, she was very selective in what she took, and she preferred the porridge that was ‘just right’.

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As a teacher, there will always be an expectation of working with parents in the best interest of the students.  However, parents, like the kids they send us, are not all the same, and have different expectations about what involvement level they should have.

For example, my co-worker had a student that was combative, argumentative, and hated women. She documented, contacted the counselor, and did everything she could do before contacting mom. Mom said, “You need to just make him run laps”. My co-worker patiently explained that she was not a gym teacher, and that, furthermore, this was a form of punishment not endorsed by our District. Mom’s response, “Well, if you’re not going to do what I suggest, don’t ask”.

Teacher = frustrated. Parent = frustrated. Student = Still belligerent. Not a great solution.

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So back to Goldilocks. She looked for what was just right. It started me to thinking about parent involvement in school.  What parent would Goldilocks pick? Which one would she definitely NOT choose. In discussions with my co-workers, it was determined that several different types of parents exist.

Helicopter Parent

AKA: OMG I have another email from this person!!

This type of parent is ultra, super, 110% involved in the student’s life. They know every test, when it’s coming up, when they should have a project due, when every pep rally is scheduled and the who, when and where of every single cotton picking aspect of their student. Don’t get me wrong. It’s FANTASTIC when you have parents that care. This type of parent, however,  takes it to another level. They send you emails about grades less than 30 minutes after their child’s scheduled class with you is over. They want you to let them know where they sit, who they sit with, did they bring their folder to class, did they put their review in their binder, did they leave their sweater in the cafeteria, did they eat breakfast, were they allowed a bathroom break after lunch, why do they have a 98, why not a 99…?

They make you consider an illegal life as a small foreign arms dealer.

Not the parent Goldilocks would pick.

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Vicarious Parent

AKA: We don’t understand how we got that grade on the report card, A Momager

These parents have their daughter in the following events: Tumbling, cheering, drill team, dance, choir, band, twirling, soccer, softball, student council, honor society, FFA, FTA, Key Club, Junior League…..wait, did I mention that this was just ONE student?  I have honestly never seen a Dadager. I’m sure they exist, but my experience is limited to moms living vicariously through their daughters.  Their student is doing SO many things that grades are the last thing on the parent’s mind, until one isn’t to their liking. As a teacher, I’ve suggested before or after school tutoring. “No, we have dance before and after school, cheer on Tuesdays, choir events on the weekend, a fashion shoot on Friday, and a modeling class on Wednesday. We know it’s not fair, but we have so much going on and we were wondering if maybe we could take the test at a later time?”

Momagers ask you to do things for their kids that other parents wouldn’t, and for that matter, shouldn’t.

Not the parent Goldilocks would pick.

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The Ghost Parent

AKA: I know you have a parent or someone who takes care of you, right?

You’re pretty sure this parent exists because the student shows up everyday, and they had to come from somewhere, but you’ve never actually see, spoken with, or received any form of correspondence from the parent. No matter how many contacts you make and in what manner you make them, they are never returned. Ever.

You begin to wonder if the kid has a part-time job and lives alone.

Not the parent Goldilocks would pick. If she could even find them.

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The Combative Parent

AKA: I’m going to kick your a** if you ever f*****g give my d**n kid a ‘C’ again. I can have your f*****g job! I know people!

I’m friends with people on the school board! I pay your salary!

These are a special kind of people. Their child earns a ‘B’, and they want to sue you because the review sheet wasn’t word for word like the test. You write their child a referral for ripping another student’s pair of jeans in half while in the locker room during gym, and they want to meet you after school in the parking lot and discuss what you can ‘do’ with your referral. There is no reasoning with these people, and after one or two times, the front office begins posting their photo next to receptionist’s desk.

It’s best to stay away from these people. If you choose to deal with them anyway, I have 2 words for you: Stupid hurts.

Definitely NOT the parent Goldilocks would pick.

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The Enabler

AKA:  Well, Little Jimmy has ADD, ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Operational Defiant Disorder, Discipline Syndrome, Narcolepsy, Panic Disorder, Insomnia, Allergies to everything known to man, Forgetfulness, and an in-grown toe nail.  At least I think he has all these things. He’s going to be tested next week.

These parents WANT their child to have something wrong with them. It relieves them of the responsibility of dealing with their behavior issues, lack of motivation, and poor grades and decision-making skills. These parents make tons of excuses for their child, but never offer any solutions.  They attend every meeting, want their perfectly normal albeit bratty child tested for everything under the sun, and want special arrangements and treatments for their child, such as “Little Jimmy says the desks make his bottom itch. Could he have a pillow provided by the school that will be transferred from class to class to keep his bottom from itching? I think he has shingles”.

  Kids like this learn to always blame someone or something else for their failures in life. They don’t try because, well, why would they?

They have all these things ‘wrong with them’.

*I am NOT referring to kids who really DO have these disorders. *

Not the parent Goldilocks would pick.

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The Middle of the Road Parent

AKA: You let me know if you need anything of if they act up. They know how we expect them to act at school.

These parents contact you back when you leave a message, they return all forms in a timely manner, and they let you know when something is going on in the student’s life, such as a death in the family or an illness. They back you up and encourage their kids to be responsible, to be prepared for class, and to act respectfully. One phone call home about bad behavior and it’s like you have a new student the next day.  Are they perfect? Nope. Sometimes they overreact before speaking to you about a situation, or they forget to send a needed item to school. The bottom line is that they respect the educational process and want the best for their kids. Not too intrusive, not in constant contact, present, but not living through their student, they represent what a parent should be: helpful, encouraging, and involved in a manner that is adequate.

These types of parents would definitely be akin to the porridge Goldilocks ate. JUST RIGHT.

6 People You Will Work With in Your Lifetime

Now we all have those special co-workers who have helped shape us.  They are our mentors, in many cases our friends, and sometimes become our second family. This post is not about those people. It’s about The Others. My co-workers are I were discussing the other day how new hires reminded us of some employees that had come and gone in the past, and I started wondering: Is there a list that I could create of types of people I have experienced throughout my employment history? Turns out, there is.

The Mole

(AKA The Behind Kisser, AKA Anything To Get Ahead, AKA The Backstabber, AKA Why Are They In The Front Office Again?)

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Identifying Attributes:  Everyone acquaintance, but nobody’s friend: The people they report to don’t even like them.  Always seems to show up when whispering begins.  You check your room/office/cubicle for listening devices because you just KNOW that they’re looking for something to report.  When sighted, everyone scatters like mice in a lit kitchen.  They ‘bait you’ to see what you’ll say, for example, “What do you think of this new dress code?”.  They are the first people you warn new hires about.

Pollyanna

(AKA Practically Perfect In Every Way, AKA The Pet)

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Identifying Attributes:  Usually lack a backbone of any kind. Allow upper management to treat them like a doormat because they will never, ever stand up for themselves.  Always gets the best assignments, duties, and jobs with a dutiful pat on the head.  Afraid to express opinions, try new things or go out on a limb because they might get into trouble and offend someone.  Deer and other wildlife flock to them as they sing in the parking lot. Super annoying.

The Hoarder

(AKA That’s Mine Even If It Isn’t, AKA Her Room Gives Me Panic Attacks, AKA Her Room Is A Fire Hazard)

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Identifying Attributes:  They still have ‘How To’ manuals for computer software from 1986.  They dig through things you’ve put out for custodians to take away. Anything they encounter in their environment becomes theirs, even if it has YOUR name on it.  At last count, they had roughly 2,000 assorted pencils and pens, yet refuse to loan any.  You never eat any food they bring to office parties.

The Critic

(AKA Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better, AKA Show Off, AKA Know It All)

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Identifying Attributes: Love to say, “Well, when I did ________, I did it this way and it worked”.  You could find a cure for a disease and they will tell you that they knew about that cure first, but just didn’t report it.  They belittle anything you say and try to do. They LOVE to prove people wrong and will spend business time doing research to do just that.  They argue with professionals, co-workers, children, plants, inanimate objects, etc.  By the time they’re done with you, you feel as effective/useful a person as half a bra.

The Underachiever

(AKA The Slob, AKA Are They Asleep?!, AKA No, You Can’t Borrow My Lesson Again.)

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Identifying Attributes: The last person in the parking lot in the morning and the first gone in the afternoon. They get paid the same as you, but do 100% less.  They sneak into a meeting and sign in during the last 10 minutes whereas you’ve sat there an hour.  They eat your food out of the common refrigerator.  They usually come in with a hangover, dark sunglasses, and a stamp on their hand.  You have no idea why they still work there.

The Needy Whiner

(AKA Why? Why? AKA It’s Not Fair, AKA Everyone Is Picking On Me, AKA Negative Nellie)

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Identifying Attributes: Thinks the whole world is against them, and that receiving an assignment, student, etc. is a punishment from God.  They make every conversation about them and their problems.  They don’t want help. They just want to complain.  When you ask them how they’re doing, they tell you terrible and begin to list all their trials and tribulations. They are the most miserable people to be around. Listening to their stories makes you want to stab out your eardrums with chopsticks.

Funny Things Kids Ask and Say: Episode 1 of a Gazillion

I consider interacting with my students to be one of the best aspects of my job.  Every now and then, I am also treated to a great laugh.

Despite thinking they ‘know everything’, 8th graders are at their best when they feel comfortable enough to be honest.  Here are some of the best questions and statements I have heard in my class in the past few years. Yes, these are real, and yes, you should all get a good chuckle.

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Me: Let’s look at the root word for ‘Radiation’. We have the word ‘ray’. What does that make you think of?

Student (very excited, hand waving): My Uncle!!

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Me: We talked about Chernobyl the other day.  Can anyone give us a recap?

Student: Doesn’t he make popcorn?

Me: Are you thinking about Orville Redenbacher?

Student: Yeah!…wait….No, I don’t know anything. Never mind.

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Student was flicking at a poster of Uranus on the wall above his head.

Me: Please quit playing with…….uh, Jupiter

(remembering at the last moment that the students pronounced the planet as ‘Ur-anus’ and I didn’t want the class to be disturbed with a chuckle)

Student 2, loudly: He’s not playing with Jupiter! He’s playing with Uranus!

-Class was pretty much over after that-

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Written on my “What If and Funny Statements” Wall:

If you say the words ‘beer can’ with a British accent, it sounds like you’re saying ‘bacon’ like you live in Jamaica.

(Go ahead and try it. You know you want to)

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Student: If you were missing a toe, would you still wear a flip-flop?

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Student: What kind of rice is this? (points to menu)

Menu reads:        Orange Glazed Chicken

         Over Rice

Hope you enjoyed these few. I have many, many more that I’ll share as I go along.

Hope everyone has a great weekend and remember, no matter what your career or what you do,  take time to laugh!

If Teachers Planned Inservice Training…

Team Work

I let out quite a chuckle when I saw this picture. I’ve been there and I’ve made that face.

*Disclaimer* This blog is not meant to imply that teachers do not appreciate learning. It is also not intended to imply that we are ‘lazy’, ‘unprofessional’ or the like. We wouldn’t be in education if we didn’t appreciate its value. What we don’t appreciate is receiving the exact same training year after year. That’s not Professional Development. That’s insulting. As far as those looking for examples on what could be done during In-Service, please read my other blog entitled ‘Get on the Bus’. Any and all comments which use bad language, insult another who comments by name calling, etc. will not be posted. *

It got me to thinking…teachers are required to attend Inservice “training” before school. It’s always dreaded and I, personally, would rather have a cavity filled than sit 3 days in a hard wooden chair, rehashing the same things year after year after year after…you get the picture.  What if teachers were in change of Inservice? What would we do away with if we could suggest anything and people in charge would listen? Ohhh, the possibilities…..

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1. Please do not give us binders full of materials we will probably never use because YOU (the planner) attended a training and decided it was awesome.  Honestly, just give us an empty binder. That’s what is going to happen anyway. We listen to your synopsis, trying our best not to roll our eyes or poke the person next to us, and then, when it’s over, in the hidden comfort of our room, we are going to throw away these copies and use the binder. Save a tree. Just give us the binder, say you went to a conference and let’s move on. Time saved: 1 hour.

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2. Please do not read your PowerPoint presentation to us.  At some point in time, we’ve all proven we are literate.  Also, doubly, please do not put said PowerPoint presentation in aforementioned binder we will not use. Just don’t. Time saved: 30 minutes.

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3. No, we do not want to change how we teach AGAIN because so and so came out with a new technique which looks familiarly like the one we used several years ago until a new technique came out and we used that. And for goodness sakes, please, please, we don’t need another laminated copy of Bloom’s taxonomy. Nope. Time saved: Up to a day. Literally.

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4. I like my coworkers, and heck, I even love some that I’ve known a while, but I don’t want to hold yarn in a shape with them and throw a ball around until it falls through a hole. You REALLY want work place bonding? Break us into groups, give us a list of clues and tell us there’s a pay raise hidden somewhere on campus.  Oh yeah, you’ll see some bonding, and some true colors come out. Time saved: 1 hour, We’re bonded and richer

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5. What we despise? Really, really loathe. Think-Pair-Share = No.  You know what’s going to happen? You think we’re sitting around talking about your binder, and your PowerPoint (in the binder) and how much we loved the yarn activity, when really, we’re talking about where we’re going to for lunch. You can call on us and we’ll make something up on the fly that sounds relevant if you need us to do that. We’re teachers, remember? We are experts of thinking off the cuff. We’re still throwing away your binder, and now we know we’re having Mexican food for lunch. You can’t come. Time saved: 30 minutes.

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6. Why ask us what the Campus Mission Statement and goals should be if the Mission Statement and goals have not changed in 20 years? Hand us a copy, we’ll grunt in agreement, and we’re done. Please don’t give us a copy and ask us to Think-Pair-Share with the group about these things. We care about as much as the students care that the floors are waxed. Time saved: At least an hour.

Sounds great

7. We know you want us to get into the groove ASAP with our ISPs and our plans for those in DAEP and ISS. We see we have scheduled ARDs or have paperwork on students that have a BIP.  We also need to look at our STAAR scores, but the 411 is that we are A-OK with actually saying the words. Time saved: Not really applicable, but at least everyone can keep up with what’s being said.

And last, but not least…

Stats

8.  We are not statisticians. Some of us may be able to do statistics under threat, but what we really want to know, in caveman speak even, is ‘You do good’ or ‘You do bad’. That’s it. We are relatively easy to please. Please do not hand us copies of every single test ever taken in the last 15 years and ask us to create and graph the distribution. This is when we suddenly get an ‘urgent’ phone call, or stomach troubles. (By the way, we’re all hanging out in the bathroom, rolling our eyes, heavily sighing, and walking very, very slowly). Time saved: 1 hour