Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's time for Abigail's annual "did you know I teach in an un-airconditioned, windowless room?" whine post

Recipe for exhaustion:

1. It is 93 degrees
2. The building was locked up during the three day weekend
3. I have no air conditiong
4. I have no windows
5. I had to get through two world wars in World History
6. I am pregnant

Most days lately I have been pretty sentimental and sad about leaving my school, and teaching in general. Today was not one of those days. My next job will be at an OSHA-approved workplace.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

No such thing as a stupid question

I have three Gifted and Talented World History sections. You can always tell the differece in ability on test day. No, I don't mean by looking at the test average (though you can tell from that too). You can tell just by the questions they ask DURING the test.

From my 1st section, not a peep. They did not ask a single question during the entire test. From my second section, here is a list of questions asked during today's test:

What does annex mean? (asked twice by two different students within minutes of each other, mispronounced both times)

What is a bottleneck? (asked twice by two different students)

What do you mean by labor relations?

What do you mean by western nations? (asked twice by the same student)

What do you mean by modernization? (asked twice by two different students)

Where do we put the test when we're finished (not only had I told them specifically at the beginning of class what they should do, but we have had the exact same procedure all year long. It has never changed.)

I shouldn't complain. This is what I get paid to do. I just mean to point out that I think there is a great difference in student knowledge and in ability to use context clues and elimination. Incidentally, when my 11th grade AP students take a test, I refuse to clarify questions or terms for them since they can't ask for help on the AP exam. Sometimes the wording on the AP exam includes some sophisticated vocabulary, but I don't mind. If they are consistently reading their textbooks and outside reading, they should be learning new words all the time. Where do people get the idea that reading skills are only important in English?

Okay, this has taken a detour quickly so I'll wrap up here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

AP Exam recap

Ms. Cornelius, from A Shrewdness of Apes asked how I thought the exam was. That's a fair question since I've been discussing it all year.

I saw the possibilities on a continuum. On the most disastrous end, students could come in and say that I had never taught them the things on the essays and multiple choice. On the perfection end, students would come in and say that the essays were exactly what we had practiced the day before the exam.

What I was realistically hoping for was somewhere in the middle, and that is what I got. ALL of the essays topics were topics I had covered at some point during the year. Most of it we had not specifically reviewed, but the reviewing is mostly up to the kids. So, basically, I had done my job.

A bonus was that two days before the exam we reviewed the term "republican motherhood," which was a major component of the DBQ (23 percent of the grade for you non-AP people). Also, at an afterschool review session the day before the exam we practiced a question on Harding and Coolidge. For the 12 kids that were there, the question on Progressivism in the 20's was perfect.

The one thing I am pretty upset about is that 8 or so of my 55 students wrote about hippies and counterculture in the 1950's. I was really surprised by how much they confused the 50's with the 60's. One even wrote about the Miss America pageant of 58.

But there's nothing I (or they) can do about it now. For the most part, I am pleased. I think I got all a first timer could ask for.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I don't need this right now

So today I get a phone call from a parent. She wants to schedule an appointment to check on how her son is doing and talk about how to prepare for the final. She would like to meet this week or early next week. I explained to her I couldn't meet this week because I have AP review sessions every afternoon, but I could certainly meet next week. I asked if she was aware next Wednesday was offical Parent Conference night -- when teachers stay at school until 6pm for the exclusive purpose of meeting with parents. She said no, but she really needed to meet earlier -- either Monday or Tuesday -- because she wants to get a leg up on preparing for the final.


Fine. I will meet with her on Monday, my first day WITHOUT an AP review session in I don't know how long. And I really hope those two days make a big difference.

But I'm not finished. I mentioned to this mother that it would be good for us to meet because her son is failing right now because of 4 zeros. The mother then informs me that he has a 504 plan (except she kept calling it a lesson plan) for his ADHD and it says anytime he has a 0 I am supposed to contact her so her son can make it up. I explained to her that in Gifted and Talented classes I do not take late work. But she said that his 504 plan says I have to. Not having the 504 plan right in front of me, I told her I would look into it.

After I got off the phone with her I pulled his 504 plan out of the filing cabinet. It says "additional time for assignments as needed." I do not interpret this to mean the student can turn in assignments halfway through the quarter. What this means to me is that if he can't finish a test in time, he comes to me, asks for more time, and I let him. OR, if he doesn't finish his map on time, I let him finish it at home. As it is two of the zeros are for class assignments that ALL students could finish at home, but he still did not turn in. The other two zeros are for homework assignments. Again, he had unlimited time to finish it that night. Am I supposed to give him unlimited time ALL QUARTER long when the student did not indicate to me he even had trouble with an assignment?

I try to remove from this argument the fact that the student is in a GIFTED and TALENTED class. I assume I have to accomodate his disability no matter what class he is in, but I am tempted to point out that it is a GT class and if he can't handle turning papers in because of his disability, perhaps he should have taken a different course.

Monday, May 01, 2006

T Minus Four

So, this is the week. We have had a countdown on my board since early March, and here we are. There is no turning back time and there is very little to do with the dwindling minutes I have left.

My students take the Advanced Placement US exam on Friday at 8am.

I have worked harder for this class than any other class in my (albeit short) teaching career. I spent my summer reading up on the parts of history less familiar and getting up early for classes that were supposed to help me become a better AP teacher. I spent my weekends grading. I spent my weekday evenings planning discussions. I spent my planning period reading more history. I spent time at school social events seeking advice from my AP mentor. I spent my nights laying awake wondering if I should have skipped that one small factoid for the sake of time. I spent my sick days teaching. I spent my money on US history books and resources for them. I spent THIS YEAR on THIS CLASS.

I gave it my best. I really did. There are things I would like to have done better, and there are additional things I would have liked to have done IF I HAD THE TIME. But I tell you, I did the absolute best I could with the students and the time I had. I wish I could say my students have given it their very best. But I'm not sure I can. Some of them really have given it their all, but many have disappointed me in their lack of priorities. But still, I love them. The first time I cried at the prospect of moving halfway across the country, it wasn't at the thought of leaving friends, but at leaving my students and missing their senior year. Many of these students I have actually taught for two years in a row. We have had great laughs, great debates, great heart-to-hearts.

If that isn't a successful year, I don't know what is.

But here's the catch: Come July, come Friday, even, none of that will matter. Success will be measured by one thing -- how many of my students passed the exam? And it's pathetic really, because I am the only one that will let this year be measured by a number. My department head has already said it is my first year, and no one is looking for a certain number. My AP mentor, who has been presented with awards from the College Board for his success, has even said I have done my best and that is all I can hope for. And for goodness sakes, I won't even be teaching here next year -- there's no reputation to worry about.

In the end, it will be my choice to let the test results shape how I view this year. If I was a bigger person, I would look at what I accmplished already and not even glance at the test results. Or maybe it isn't really my fault? Isn't it my principal, isn't it my school board, isn't it my governor, and isn't it my president, who have said that numbers DO matter? That it is what is on the scantron, not on the heart that matters in teaching?

I hope that despite my own numbers driven measure of success, my students will see beyond their grade. I hope they know I value them for who they are and what they taught me, not how well they score on Friday. If that is the case, then how can I say I have failed?