Tuesday, January 28, 2014

School Induced Comma

My grades were due yesterday morning (which is why there is a lack of post from the last couple of days) and of course nothing went as planned.

First, I got in at 5:30am to make copies and input grades for one last class. I print off everything, start the copier, and then sit down to log onto Turnitin.com only to discover that our IT department was experimenting with a filter and I needed an admin password to access the site.

Grades were due at 7:40am. The filter wasn't taken off until 7:45am.

Then, during my first planning period, I was sidetracked with an issue in guidance for the entire period preventing me from actually getting my grades done. I didn't have a free moment until lunch so I had to give up my lunch period to grade.

After finally getting my grades in, I had to run down to the athletic department to drop off paperwork so I could get paid for the work I did for them over the weekend which took away the five minute window I had to eat.

During the actual teaching period, I introduced the sophomore research project to my sophomores. Every sophomore has to do it but I was the first teacher to introduce it meaning I was a big fat meany. My seniors were bouncing off the wall and my freshmen couldn't focus to save their lives. I thought I was out of the woods with last period planning but I ended up subbing during that period.

I rarely leave school as soon as I'm allowed to but yesterday I left the moment the clock told me my contract hours were up.

I proceeded to go for a mile and a half walk to clear my head and then I put my head down on the pillow and was asleep by 7pm and was that way until 6am this morning. Basically a school induced comma.

I do not share this to complain. I share this because when I was first starting out, I felt this way all the time but didn't feel like anyone understood. Therefore, I share this so you can not feel alone and know that you are not the only teacher that feels crazy every once and a while.

It is okay to sleep for 11 hours sometimes. Sometimes you need it more than you need to grade.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Days Are a Wonderful Wonderful Thing

This is the second snow day coming off of a four day weekend for students and three day weekend for teachers.

I love it.

I have gotten grading done and grad school work done. I have been able to do this without being over tired from teaching all day and I have been able to do it in sweats (I think sweatpants should become part of professional attire but that is another issue).

I have also been able to sleep. I went to bed a reasonable hour last night without completing the grading I needed to because I knew I had the day off. I woke up not stressed about what I had to get done because I knew I had time to do it all.

I really wish teaching could be like this all the time. There are too many mornings I wake up dreading the amount of work I have to do. I don't actually dread the teaching just the grading/planning/meetings. You know, the stuff that prevents me from doing the part of my job that I actually really like.

In my ideal world, teachers would have two work days a month. One would be for all the meetings where they tell us what is going to be on the memo that is going to be placed in our mailboxes later and meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. The second day would be for grading. Just grading.

That would be my heaven.

Regardless of how much work I get done today, these two snow days have allowed me to relax and rejuvenate. I'll go into work tomorrow refreshed and relaxed. I won't be stressed at all.

Until the weekend since my grades are due on Monday morning but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Resources for The Iliad

It was a very productive snow day and frankly, I'm too tired to actually write a post so I decided to give you the gift of resources instead!

You can find some activities I've done while teaching The Iliad here.

Hopefully you'll find them useful! Enjoy!

If you want to see what other resources I have, go ahead and go here. You won't regret it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lessons from Feeny: Utilizing Technology

I am currently re-watching the entire Boy Meets World series (thanks to my wonderful boyfriend). If you never saw the show, it is a typical 90's sitcom but better. Yes, it is situation comedy at its best but it does more than that by making sure they tell the coming of age story of Corey and his friends as they go through high school and eventually college.

Somehow, Cory, his friends, and even Corey's older brother Eric, all have the same teacher each year. Mr. Feeny is his name and he is such a great teacher that I want to be him.

No really.

I want to be a Mr. Feeny type of teacher.

Okay, not in the sense of me having the same students year after year, but in his teaching style and what he teaches his students for life outside of the classroom.

I mean look at this awesome speech

(note: Corey, Shawn, and Topanga are on a quiz show that used to be very highly academic and now it is all based upon pop culture)

Later in the episode, the three realize that Feeny is right. That the "information" they are learning isn't very useful to them in the real world.

Now, we could get into a discussion about if students really need to learn about Gutenberg or not but Feeny does bring up an amazing point.

My students know how to use Twitter, SnapChat, Tumblr, and basically every other social network in existence with no problem at all. Yet, when I ask them to do research, they stare at me blankly. They don't know how to utilize the tool given to them in order to enrich themselves. They just know how to make sure their selfie is seen by hundreds of people.

Imagine if they harnessed that power and ability to learn more. Not just learn more about Gutenberg but maybe learn more about the things that interest them (beyond reality TV). I want my students to see their laptops as more than just game centers. I want them to see them as a gateway to learning. I want them to learn about things that will help them like creativity. I want them to imagine and design using the technology they know so well. I want them to better themselves not dumb themselves down.

I want to be like Feeny and teach my students this. I just need to figure out how.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Part 4 of 4: What Does the PISA Report Tell Us About U.S. Education?

Time to tackle the final myth that comes from the PISA

Myth #5: Teachers are overpaid for the amount work they do

First, look at the map and chart below. It is a breakdown of every state's average teacher salary.
salary map

salary alaskahawaii
salary list

As the second chart shows, an average can be totally skewed by a few numbers. 16 out of 51 (because of D.C) pay their teachers higher than the national average so therefore only 31% pay higher. How ridiculous is that?

For the sake of this argument, I'm going to only focus on Virginia since that is where I teach. Virginia has an average salary of $49,869. Let's round up and say that Virginia teachers make $50,000 a year. Now, that is the average salary of all teachers in the state; new, 5 years in, with doctorate, etc. This is not the average starting salary.

In comparison, the median income in VA is $63,636. Let's round that to $64,000. So on average, teachers make $14,000 less than the average Virginian.

"Wait!" people who don't understand how teaching works say. "Teachers only work from the end of August to the beginning of June! Plus they have all of those vacations in the middle! They deserve to make that much. Actually, they are most likely overpaid for the amount of work they do!"

And here is why that argument is crap.

Teachers go back a week before students, so they work 2 weeks in August. They stay roughly a week longer than students so they work 2 weeks into June. So teachers work 9 months of the year in total. We get about a week and half off in the winter and one week for spring break. So that means we work 8 and 1/2 months.

We do technically get off other days, like Memorial Day and Labor Day, but most work places get those days off so it isn't worth considering them in the grand scheme of things. And the days that students have off, the teachers are working so although we are not teaching we are still working. So again, we only get advantage of 2 extra weeks.

This comes up with 34 weeks that we are actually in the school building for 40 hours. That means we are in the building for 1360 hours. A person with a "normal" job (aka one that works 48 weeks), works 1920 hours.

Yes, from that standpoint, teachers are overpaid.

Before you start rejoicing that I just proved this myth to be true, you're forgetting all the extra work teachers do during a week.

I get to work an hour before my contract hours and I stay at least an hour later on a daily basis  including the weeks I don't actually teach (this is normal for teachers. Sometimes it is only after school or only before but we all stay extra time at school). That equals 10 extra hours a week. This brings my total hours to 1700 hours.

Then we have the work we have to do on our own time.


I grade on the weekends, during commutes, over vacations, while I'm watching sports games, even when I go out to eat. I basically grade whenever I have a spare moment.

Let's look at the amount of grading I did yesterday: I graded one class worth of projects which took me about 2 hours. This is faster than papers which take me about 3 hours per class. I have 6 classes so when I have to grade a paper, it takes me about 12 hours. This is fast because I'm "good" at it now.

I assign two major projects or papers a quarter so, considering some are projects, let's assume I add 20 hours of grading a quarter. There are 4 quarters which means that is an extra 80 hours of work which brings my total up to 1780 hours.

Of course, this is only projects and papers. I also have tests. I usually do some type of short answer on each to truly see if students understand the information. It takes me about an hour per class per test and I give about 3 tests per quarter. That's 18 hours per quarter which is 72 hours total. My total is now 1852.

I also have homework. The amount of hours I spend grading homework per week depends on if I assign reading questions or something more detailed like paragraphs. However, on average, I spend about 2 hours grading homework a week. Since I don't actually give homework 2 of those 34 weeks, I spend a total of 64 hours grading homework. My total is now 1916.

So I'm now short by 4 hours of the 48 week worker.

But I'm still not done.

I need to plan which I can't always complete in my planning period during the day because sometimes I have to meet with other teachers, make copies, or hunt down a student for one reason or another.

On average, I plan an hour a week outside of school. 34 hours, since I plan more during the week before school, added makes my total 1950.

I'm still not done.

I am required to attend parent-teacher conferences and back to school night. Conferences are 2 hours each time, which is 4 hours, and back to school night lasts about 3 hours. So an extra 7 hours. My total is now 1957.

Assuming I'm making $50,000, I am making about $25 per hour. In 34 weeks.

Those that work 48 weeks and make the average $64,000 make about $33 per hour.

I work more hours, for less money, in a shorter amount of time. Yes, I "work" less weeks but usually, teachers do some other type of work over the summer. Last summer I taught summer school and attended an AP certification class. Some teachers work summer camps. Others take classes.

Next time you try and say a teacher rarely works, trying to spend some quality time with them during those 34 weeks that we are "working." My boyfriend will tell you it sucks because I'm always working during that time.

I am sorely underpaid for the amount of work I do.

And now that I've made myself sad due to doing math, I need to get back to grading.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Actually Enjoying the Grading Process?

I am about to say four words that rarely come out of a teacher's mouth:

I am enjoying grading

Seriously. I am enjoying it. I'm currently grading my sophomores Asian Literature Portfolios. For this assignment, students took five different styles of writing that originated in various places in Asia and wrote their own versions. They not only had to write the pieces but explain what the pieces were and how what they wrote fits into that definition. They also had to dedicate the work to someone and give a short bit about themselves as the author. Not only did they write samples of 5 creative writing style but they also were allowed to make up whatever they wanted about themselves as the author. They could have become a Jedi, the doctor who cured cancer, or even a Time Lord. The sky was the limit as long as they kept their name the same.

I am laughing out loud as I read these. Some of my kids are hilarious and some of the kids who are hilarious are the quiet ones in class. They finally have the space to be the funny person they are without having to embarrass themselves. 

I am smiling at how touching some of the dedications are and how thoughtful the writings are. My students may sometimes appear shallow on the outside, but they have so much happening on the inside that they are afraid to show it. They finally have an outlet to express their feelings.

I even shed a tear at how moving one portfolio was. 

My students have written truly inspiring pieces. Out of my 65 sophomores, only 2 did not turn in the assignment. This is the lowest percentage of "missing" I've had to record. My students took the assignment I created and made it their own. 

They not only showed me that they learned something, but they actually enjoyed doing the learning. 

My teacher senses are getting warm and fuzzy because my students have actually enjoyed writing and learning. When my students enjoy what they do, they produce better work. When my students produce better work, I enjoy grading their work.

Now, if I could only figure out a way for them to enjoy writing essays.....

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oedipus the King Resources

I want to make sure I do the last part of the PISA well so instead of rushing it, I figured I would post some more resources.

This time you have resources for Oedipus the King by Sophocles. These resources include one of my original creation and personal favorites which is the (anti) children's book assignment. It is a lot of fun for the students and a lot of fun to grade.

Hope you enjoy them!

If you want to see what other resources I have available, you can go here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Remember to Breathe

Teachers are crazy busy during the school year. We teach 8 hours a day and then do grading before and after school that averages in hours. Personally I do about 3 to 5 hours of grading outside of my teaching hours during the week. We then also grade on the weekends out of necessity not want.

That is just what we need to do for our job set forth by our contract. We then do things outside of our contract that still fall within school. A lot of us run clubs or help out with school dances or chaperone field trips.

I work the home basketball and football games, moderate the literary magazine,  coach JV softball, and chaperone the Model UN field trips.

With so much going on we, as teachers forget to breathe sometimes.

I'm here to tell you not to forget to breathe. Take one night off of grading and read a book. Maybe cook an amazing dinner. Do a craft. Something besides sit in front of the TV because when you sit in front of the TV, you could grade. Don't make yourself feel guilty over something that should make you feel relaxed.

Never forget to breathe and relaxed because a stressed out teacher just leads to you taking it out on your students even if you don't mean to.

Relax every once and a while. Never forget to breathe.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Part 3 of 4: What Does the PISA Report Tell Us About U.S. Education?

I have finally got caught up(ish) with the grading I neglected over break so I'm finally able to take some time to debunking another myth.

Myth #3: The US spends the most on education

The myth, as it reads now, is somewhat correct. We are not the top performer but we are near the top. However, and this is a BIG however, in that same article, it points out that we are the ONLY developed country, and only one of five countries, that have CUT education spending since 2008. The chart below breaks it down for you by state.

Found here

14 states upped their spending on education. Fourteen out of fifty. That is 28% of the states.

This cut in education is HUGE! We have stopped investing in our child's future to save some money. If you know your modern history, you know that 2008 is when the economy started to take a downturn. Our political leaders decided that cutting education funding, which is below 10% of the budget, was the best idea to save money. They are also the same ones that complain about how bad the education system.

Here, have a mirror so you can see part of the problem.

So are we spending more than most countries? Yes.

But, we are no longer finding it worth while to invest in our future. I honestly think this is what the politicians say to our school boards:

 "Make classes smaller, get better teachers, and provide more up to date resources for our students. That will cost $100k but I'll give you $50k. What? You can't get it done? You're horrible at what you do! We need to totally revamp education! You're the source of the problem!"

You want proof they do that? I have four words for you:

No Child Left Behind

The basic idea was that if you performed well you got money. If you didn't perform well, we'll take it away from you and shut it down. Anyone involved in education would tell you this doesn't work by sheer logic. The schools that under perform have a low income level. That means less local taxes are going into the school which means they need more help from the federal government. I know teachers at these schools who are put on a strict copy count due to budge tightening since they lost funding under NCLB.

Luckily, it was realized how dumb this program was so they offered "waivers" but the school of thought still exists. I'll give you four more words to show that:

Race to the Top

Granted, RTTT isn't as bad as NCLB. They don't take away money if you perform badly, they just won't give you extra money. The extra money is only reserved for those schools that increase their scores. If you're a struggling school, you have to increase your scores first and then you'll get the money.

I mean that makes total sense.

The point of this is to show you that I'm not making it up when I say that politicians want million dollar results but don't want to invest the million dollars needed to get those results. The article I linked above said it best:

"When people talk about other countries out-educating the United States, it needs to be remembered that those other nations are out-investing us in education as well," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union.

So, does the US spend a lot of money on education? Yes

But does the US invest the money needed in education? No

And that is where the real tragedy is.

You can't be a super star at something if you don't put in the required skills needed. In this case, you can't have a top performing education program if you don't invest in it.

Myth #4: US student performance is dropping

This is a quick an easy one. I'm only going to use the PISA results since that is what causes people to complain about all of this.

Are we below the average? Yes

Have we improved since 2003? Yes

Found here
The United States falls in that top left whit area close to the center which means that since 2003, we are still below the average but we have improved.

The report that chart is linked to also shows that not only are we at the middle of the pack over all, we are at the middle of the pack in all economic groups. There has either been an improvement or a minimal change since 2003 in all socioeconomic levels.

Our students are not getting "dumber," our policy makers are. Every test proves that we are staying about the same or slightly improving. 

Can we improve more? Yes

But are we declining? No. Not at all.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Resources for Units

As teacher, one of the most frustrating things is finding resources so that you do not have to completely reinvent the wheel. I have spent countless hours searching the internet for various assignments especially when I want to try new things (see my previous post). Although there are some great websites out there like WebEnglishTeacher, it can become very difficult to find resources.

So to help my fellow English teachers, I am starting my own resource page on my blog. I'll be adding to it as I go and I'll publish an update every time I do. Eventually there will be plenty of resources on the units below but for now I'm starting with Things Fall Apart since that is what I'm currently doing with my sophomores.

Eventually you'll be able to find resources on:

Things Fall Apart
The Odyssey
The Iliad
Oedipus the King
Romeo and Juliet
The Aeneid
Taming of the Shrew
Thesis Essay Writing
Using Video in the Classroom


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Changing It Up

Welcome back from break!


I guess.

I know we could all use some extra sleep.


Regardless, it is time for me to start teaching again. With my freshmen and sophomores, I'm teaching material that I have taught for the past two years. I know the text like the back of my hand. I have lessons that I know are successful and assignments that I know ensure the students are reading. I should be all set to go.

So why did I decide to change part of one unit and completely redo another?

Because I'm crazy.

No really. Teaching the same thing the same way year after year causes me to get bored and go slightly crazy. I wouldn't be able to put up with that.

I not only do it for my sake but I also do it for my student's.

Teaching the same material year after year is okay. Teaching it the same way is not.

By teaching the same way you're assumimg that every year you'll have the same group of students who learn the same way. Any time spent in the classroom will tell you this isn't true. My first year, my freshmen were pretty good writers but struggled with analysis.  The next year they struggled with both. This caused me to have to change how I taught some things. I had to mold to them.

Yes, I do reuse some things if I can. It does save me time and energy. But, I can't expect to keep everything exactly the same each year. That assumes everyone is the same.

As the teacher, it is my job to mold to the students. Its not their job to mold to me.

Ps..... I'll have part 3 of 4 dealing with PISA will be done this week. Just have to get back into the swing of things.