31 May 2005

Caution: Teachers at Play

The staff at my school is like most others. We’re willing to jump in and give one another some help when we’re asked. For example, last week one of our newer staff members sent out this request:

Question: So I'm trying to pick anyone's brain who has lived here for a while who knows how to clam and crab around these parts? My family's coming over to visit me this weekend and they want to go clamming/crabbing! Does anyone know anything about how to do this, what to use, where to buy, good/bad tide info?? HELP!

A teacher in our English department offered this advice:

You need to go to the fishery-supply outlet and get yourself some good crab sticks. Shrimp sticks will work if you can't find the crab-specific product. Anyway, you sneak up behind them (their eyes pivot so you must be stealthy) and then give them a good whoppin’ with the stick. I have a pair of leather-handled sticks from Crustacean Sensations - this company is to crabbing what Nike is to a tennis shoe. But I'm just name dropping. Anyway, if you can't find any you can borrow mine. Hey, for clams you just need a good shovel. Snow shovels can move the mud and sand faster. Be careful not to harvest clams if you notice any effluence leaking into your digging area from shore side. Be wary of brown clams. Good luck on your venture.

Next, our attendance secretary helped:

Clam "guns" work better for razor clams. Just be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot.

And finally, my department Chair chimed in:

I like the crab stick method, as well, but I find bringing the crab to me works more effectively than trying to sneak up on them. I generally hide among the seaweed and use a crab-caller to lure the crabs in close. It produces a high frequency sound which mimics the sound of a mussel in distress. I believe Crustacean Sensations carries these as well.

Can you tell that Summer Fever has us in its grip? 8 more...

30 May 2005

Reading Animals

Two things have always been a part of my life: books and animals (primarily cats). A cat was present in my parents house before I was. The book part (for me) took a little longer. I taught myself to read at the age of 2 and haven't been without either item since then.

Recently, I read Animals in Translation. The author, Temple Grandin, is autistic---although obviously one of those who are afflicted and manage to make their way in the world, PhD and all. She is not a "horse whisperer" type of person. Rather, she believes that her autism (which may be caused by problems in the pre-frontal lobe areas of the brain) gives her the ability to "see" the world in a similar way to that of animals (who lack much pre-frontal lobe development at all). She uses a lot of research about the brain in order to make the argument that humans and (other) animals have a lot of the same circuitry. Even if our outward actions from the activation of those circuits are different, we can still use that knowledge to understand animal behaviour and improve their lives (including those raised for slaughter).

I have 3 kitties. Two are 12 years old and one is 8. We have been a "family" for some time now and have experienced several life changes together. About a year ago, we moved into a new home and acquired two more housemates. Both housemates are human and neither is what I would term an "animal person." They each like animals and have owned them at one point or another---but they seem to lack a connection to animals. The animals were just "things" in the way one might look at your shoes or a picture on your wall. There are no stories about the animals in their lives because they never included the animals in that way when they had them.



The same day as the second housemate moved in, one of the cats left a big steaming pile of poop right outside her bedroom door. I suspected that it was the youngest of my charges, Oliver. (He is pictured above with my gal Bitty.) I apologized on his behalf and cleaned things up. But I was mystified as to why he would do that. A few months ago, there were some piles left in another part of the house where the first housemate would leave her shoes or other items. Indeed, there were a couple of piles inside of a closet where she stored some toys for her grandchildren to play with when they were here. Again, I suspected my 8-year old. I knew it was some sort of message (and not one of marking territory, as my housemate surmised), but what? I hadn't ever seen that behaviour from any cat before.

But the book I just read may have helped me decode things a bit. Grandin talks about hierarchies within "packs." I am the "alpha member" for my cat pack and me. The 12-year old male is "beta." (Pooh is pictured below.) The younger male, who is much bigger and stronger, has never formally challenged this...although I suspect he might as the older one becomes more aged. My 8-year old knows his place in the pack. His message last summer outside the bedroom door was intended for my housemate to know hers: below him (in his mind) and don't get uppity about it. Why did he wait so long to assert himself with the other housemate? Because as soon as I stopped spending much of any time with her, he perceived that her ranking in the pack had dropped. And he wanted her to know that he was well aware of that.



I can't be mad at the cat for doing any of this. It isn't pre-meditated or intended to be malicious. In fact, I kind of have to laugh a bit. He is such a sweet boy and very willing to show his belly to you as an act of "submission." But as happy as he is most of the time, he's not letting anyone get ahead of him in the pack. So there.

I think the real power in Grandin's book comes from her ability to connect what we know about human brains and actions to animal ones. She may be wrong about a lot of things---some of her supporting research is rather shaky. But if nothing else, it gets you to look a little deeper into why animals behave in certain ways and gain a healthy appreciation for that. It shows why we're so much alike, as any animal lover may already claim. It is also humbling in many ways. It reinforced for me that people who have a "take 'em or leave 'em" attitude about animals are often those who try to bend an animal's will from the outside...rather than becoming part of their world.

This Memorial Day, the cats and I will be spending some time together and I'll be doing some more reading. But then, being surrounded by both kitties and books has always been part of my pack mentality.

29 May 2005

Random Thoughts for Memorial Sunday

I do wonder what I'll blog about in the summer months, when school is (hopefully) not a focus. Last summer, I had 6 weeks in between job commitments. This year, it is looking closer to 8 weeks. In the regular work-a-day world, 6 weeks probably seems like an ungodly allotment of time. The truth is simply that 6 weeks doesn't even cover the hours of "comp time" I put in during the mornings alone when school is in session. Not a complaint, mind you, just trying to put things in perspective.

I tend to spend my summers rather quietly. I'll nap during the day and stay up to the wee hours watching old movies. I may read or stitch or try some new recipes. I always make a trip to see my mother and usually have a visitor or two myself. There is no goal, other than recharging mentally and physically for another school year.

My head cold is still hanging on at the moment, which is as good of reason as any to avoid anything school related for the day. :) Right now, I'm channel flipping between tennis, the Indy 500, and a cooking show.

I've been perusing the Henry Raddick Reviews on Amazon.com and having fits of giggles. This guy seems to have taken it upon himself to find the most obscure books to review...with hilarious results. My favourite so far is for The Bible Cure for Memory Loss. Henry writes, "A beautifully written book about the healing power of that nice bearded young man." Everyone should have a hobby, eh?

I've also been wondering whether to try my hand at Moss Graffiti. What sort of message should a Science Goddess leave for others? And where? Do I tag my school?

This link came across my path earlier in the week: Living Jewels. It's beautiful photographs of beetles. Yes, I know they're bugs. But I was raised by an entomologist and I have spent a good part of my life surrounded by one 6-legged critter or another. These happen to be rather attractive and I wouldn't mind having a poster or two for my office space next year.

If I can get my sinuses to cooperate, perhaps I'll head out this afternoon and see what the rest of the world is doing. I have a summer to plan, right?

28 May 2005

Eggs-periments with Inquiry

The biology teachers (most of us, anyway) at my school have been doing some work with our curriculum. Now that the state has provided us with a roadmap of content, what should we do? It's also been a good time to talk about aligning expectations in one another's courses. The process has been slow, but has generated good discussion and collaboration.

One of the ideas generated was that for each Grade Level Expectation (GLE) we teach, there would be an inquiry-style investigation that would last for a good portion of the unit. This would not, of course, be the sole lab experiment. We were looking for a way to ensure that students had the necessary time and experience to develop "good" questions and design ways to test them. There would be a couple of choices for these inquiry strands of a unit, depending upon a teacher's strengths and interests.

We have a very enthusiastic teacher (Julio) on our staff. Now, it's true that we're all pretty passionate about teaching science, but this guy...well, I always think of him as a puppy. He has a very high energy level and is always on the move. Julio is constantly looking for ways to outdo himself in terms of lessons, which occasionally leads to some nutty things: kissing a sea anemone in order to feel the sting...setting himself on fire (while wearing his lab coat) in order to demonstrate safety (he had a kid use the fire blanket to put him out)...and so on. Julio is older than me, but has less teaching experience. This is his second career---and he is developing into a fine professional.

It was suggested that we use egg osmosis as an inquiry strand. If you haven't seen or done this, you can play along at home. Just take an egg and put it in vinegar in order to remove the shell. Afterwards, you'll be left with a giant cell encased in a membrane. Now, put it in some karo syrup overnight. Or try a glass of water. Or salt water. Whatever you like---and observe what happens to your "cell." Osmosis is a fairly simple concept (water moves across a membrane to where there's less water), but kids have a very difficult time with it.

Julio took it upon himself to write up a lesson plan for using egg osmosis as an inquiry strand. And in true fashion, it was over the top and only really made sense to him. But I just couldn't stand to poop on it after he presented it to the rest of us. Instead, I took his work and reformatted it into the Inquiry Cycle. I just did a skeleton outline and sent him an e-mail starting with "I wonder if something like this would work..." He liked the idea and is off and running with it again---and I think it will be eggs-ceptional this time.

The moral of this story, for me, was how to use my Science Goddess power in a different way...and a way that I'd like to do a lot more often starting next year. My colleagues don't need me for content knowledge. They're experts in that. What they need, as Wes pointed out to me, is for someone to spend the time reading the professional literature and learning how to dig deeply into curriculum and instruction so that classroom teachers have a resource in me. They're teaching 150 kids a day. Many have families and other obligations. They don't have the time or headspace to do everything---and here is where I can lighten their load a bit. I really find that eggs-citing. :)

27 May 2005

Miss Cellaneous

First up, a couple of updates:

  • "DC" is continuing his charge at the department. This week, it was our department chair's turn to be asked the two questions. Our Chair gave DC the same answers I did...and you know how well DC likes to hear them. I believe their conversation ended with something like "I can teach here next year if I want to and there's not a damned thing you can do about it!" DC also told the Chair that none of us in the department care for his leadership. We laughed when we heard this and asked the Chair, "You mean that he thinks that you tell us what to do?!" It was also passed along that science department members are involved in "backbiting" (i.e. talkin' smack about one another). To which we also laughed. We are not always one big happy family in the science department, but we're not gossips. DC interviewed with the cushy district yesterday. We're all holding our breaths to see if he'll go if the job is offered.
  • The Suzanne Show went off without a hitch. At the end of the evening, I was dismissed with a "You can go now." Thanks! What a great way to wrap up nine years of these things. Not that I expected a brass band, champagne cocktails, and all the trimmings. There's a new teacher who will be Suzanne's lapdog next year. I wanted to tell her to buy a rubber donut to sit on. ..because her butt is going to be sore a lot.

And now for something completely different.

Wednesday and Thursday were wonderful days with my sophs. We are knee deep into our unit on Plants. Kids generally don't like plants because "they don't do anything." I have made it my personal mission over the years to at least convince them that plants do lots of things, even if they don't move from place to place.

I experimented with my kids on Wednesday. I wanted to know if there was a constructivist way to do vocabulary. I had two obscure-to-them terms: Monocot and Dicot. What the heck do these words mean and why should anyone care? So, I had them go out and pull some grass and a dandelion and look at the roots. We ate corn nuts and peanuts (after sending away the kids who had peanut allergies, natch) in order to compare and contrast the seeds. We looked at flowers. And they examined microscope slides containing sections of stems and leaves. I asked them to just draw or describe the observed differences---terminology was not important. As a last step, I asked them to create their own definition of each term and then provide at least 3 examples of each type of plant. The kids did phenomenally well with this. The observations were dead on. And they didn't have any trouble applying their definitions to different plants that they knew. Kewl!

Yesterday, I lectured a bit about parts of flowers and then we headed outside. (Can you believe it was 90 degrees yesterday? In the Pacific NW?) We tore apart all kinds of flowers. They had no trouble pointing out monocots and dicots along the way. And even more importantly, they started to classify plants beyond that. Gee, the flower from the scotch broom is just like the lupine...and like clover. Dandelions and daisies are alike. And so on. I was really happy with how all of this worked out.

I have the day off today. I've been working on getting the chores done and am trying to win my battle with a head cold and some nausea. Why is it that once you start to "let up" after being intensely focused on your work that you get sick? If I didn't know better, I'd think that stress is actually good for the immune system.

There is another beautiful day outside. If I feel up to it this afternoon, I hope to go down and enjoy the low tide and feel the sun on my face for a bit. If not, it is still nice to have a break and see the blue sky...and contemplate summer.

26 May 2005

The Suzanne Show!

A quick post this morning (!) before I head out the door. I can't blog from school (heaven forbid the filtering software allow this) and won't be home until late this evening.

Tonight is what I affectionately call "The Suzanne Show!" It's really an awards night for seniors who have taken challenging courses, maintained a high GPA, and completed a large scale project. I suppose it's really more of a "rewards night," because these kids have had their noses to the grindstone since their first day of kindergarten...and now it's time to recognize them. They're usually very lovely kids and I'm happy to hang a medal around the neck of each one of them and watch the superintendent beam.

My partner in all of this, "Suzanne," has always felt this program was hers. For the most part, I don't mind. I do all the "behind the scenes" stuff (record keeping, document preparation, communications with staff...), and she steps out to take as much credit as she can. (This is not to say that she doesn't do a significant amount of work during the year.) In the end, it's about the kids, so I usually just nod and smile when I hear her or others talk about "her" program and what a wonderful job she did this year.

This is my ninth and final year of preparing and watching "The Suzanne Show!" I have now seen a few hundred graduates receive significant recognition and heard Suzanne's "I'm Irish so I'm allowed to cry" speech many times. I wish this year's crop of kids well, but I will also walk away tonight tired and happy that I don't ever have to make a "Suzanne Show" happen again.

Besides, I get a 4-day weekend as a reward. Cheers!

25 May 2005

Help! Police! I've been memed!!

Aw...my first meme. I almost feel like I should take a picture of my blog. :)

Coach Brown was kind enough to send this one along: Choose any five of these: "If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician...If I could be a doctor...If I could be a painter...If I could be a gardener...If I could be a missionary...If I could be a chef...If I could be an architect...If I could be a linguist...If I could be a psychologist...If I could be a librarian...If I could be an athlete...If I could be a lawyer...If I could be an inn-keeper...If I could be a professor...If I could be a writer...If I could be a llama-rider...If I could be a bonnie pirate...If I could be an astronaut...If I could be a world famous blogger...If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...If I could be married to any current famous political figure..."

If I could be a bonnie pirate...I'd set sail for all manner of imaginary places: Utopia, Pepperland, Wonderland, Narnia and all points in between. My Tall Ship would be very fleet and yare. I’d call her "In Search of Seamen." (Ahem.) I wouldn't be interested in plunder, but rather knowledge. What an opportunity to be able to see the unseen...to know what others do not. I want an outfit like Captain Morgan (but no mustache). And high-heeled black boots so I could kick some Blue Meanie butt.

If I could be a doctor...I would take time to talk with and get to know my patients. I would listen to what was happening in their lives and ask what was on their minds. I'd hope they'd feel comfortable enough to ask me anything they might be concerned with. While I would certainly keep their best interests in mind, I would do my best to never lecture nor scold. I'd like to work in a rural area that needed me and be part of the community.

If I could be an inn-keeper...I'd have a "Bed and Breakfast." The house would be big, but not intimidating or frou-frou. I'd want my guests to feel welcome---they could peruse my library or sit by the fire in the livingroom. I'd like to hear about their travels: where they'd been and where they were going next. I'd look forward to trying out all sorts of new recipes for their breakfasts (as I enjoy cooking) There would be wine and treats in the afternoons. Everyone needs to feel good about coming home at the end of the day. Even if it is a borrowed home for a weary traveler.

If I could be a writer...I would write novels. I like the idea of doing some historically oriented science story. I love to do research and would really enjoy getting involved in chasing down all sorts of details related to what it was like to live during a certain period. I have often thought of doing a Typhoid Mary type story set in Seattle at the beginning of the 20th century. A female doctor would make for an interesting protagonist.

If I could be a scientist...(okay, so I already sorta am) I would be a forensic anthropologist. This is the one job where "if I could do it all over again" I would pursue without fail. I have always enjoyed doing puzzles. This area of crime-solving fascinates me due to its precision (in the form of measurement and tools) and inference (in the form of deductive reasoning).

Do you want to be "it"? Let me know and I'll tag you.

24 May 2005

Education: The Star Wars Tie-In

My Sweetie forwarded the information shown below. Apparently, George Lucas has a foundation interested in educational issues. Have a looksee and send in your answer, if you're so inclined.

Edutopia, The George Lucas Educational Foundation's new magazine, is looking for reader voices and comments for our next issue. They'll be featured in an ongoing department called Sage Advice in which our audience suggests solutions to problems we throw out there. (Think of a reverse DearAbby.)

You can see a few of the many notes we received in response to our last topic, "What five things would you do to save public education?" at http://www.edutopia.org/sageadvice.

The question for the next issue is: How do you get the most out of substitute teachers? Send your 25- to 100-word replies, or even suggestions for future questions, to sage@edutopia.org.

(The fine print: Deadline is June 1. Be sure to include your name, location, and title or affiliation. Responses may be edited for length and style.)

23 May 2005

Trippin'

Today, I took most of my APers on a field trip to the zoo. Field trips are always a "love-hate" kind of thing with me. They're great (and rare) opportunities to do some learning outside the classroom, but oh, the paperwork and headaches they generate.

I really should have been a little smarter with this one: I was the only chaperone on the trip. It is always good to have another pair of adult eyes. Mind you, we had a wonderful day and nothing untoward occurred---but if it had, it would have been mighty difficult for me to manage alone. I always feel hypervigilant at these events, counting my chicks over and over again. At least most of them have cell phones. It makes for a nice safety blanket when someone is late checking in.

The kids are always hopped up about going to the zoo. Most of them haven't been in a long time and they have fond memories. The interesting thing is their reaction at this point in their life. Now they stop and think about the ethics involved with trapping, transporting, and housing exotic animals. As children, it was just fun to point and look at the elephant. Today they wondered how "fair" it is to keep a social animal isolated in a pen...an animal which might normally travel 20 miles in a day.

The weather was lovely today. Blue skies, sun, but not too hot. We all enjoyed getting out of the classroom and getting some fresh air. It's a reminder of what awaits us after we spend 12 more days chained to our desks.

Too bad the elephant doesn't get a summer holiday.

22 May 2005

One More

There was one other e-mail on Friday, waiting in the inbox to get stuck in my craw. This time, it was from a teacher at another school.

She isn't very good at keeping up with her e-mail. A couple of weeks ago, I received some comments from her regarding a meeting at the end of February. I just thanked her for her input, and pointed out that decisions regarding her specific concerns had been made several weeks ago by the Scope and Sequence Committee.

She must finally be making some headway into her backlog of correspondence, because this time, she was commenting on minutes from a meeting I sent out at the end of April. It appears that she either did not read carefully or did not read the minutes at all. Although, she does say, "Now that I have had the time to read all of this. I am alarmed. Where I have taught:the kids in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and even Idaho get full-year science 6-12. I know of no other district that limits jr. hi science like we do. The"gifted bunch" get full year science 7 and can elect a full year 8th and ninth is Adv. physical science. Science is reading and math and writing............so why limit what hooks kids in school? Perhaps we need another period in the Jr. High schedule?"

Uh...maybe if you'd read everything you would know that it's because those schools don't have the classroom/lab space? And also due to concerns about staffing? Not to mention all the schools in WA we contacted who don't have full-year science available for grades 6 - 12. And, not to mention that access to science here is not restricted to the "gifted bunch." Maybe she didn't notice the part where we'd already talked about bell schedule options. Or maybe she just saw what she wanted to see.

This time, I again thanked for her input and directed her to her department chair (who was on the committee) for further information. Friday was just not the day for me to be dealing with her.

The "funny" thing is, she was someone who thought she wanted the district science position. Since then, I've heard her brag about how since her daughter was graduating from high school, she could spend all her time focusing on getting rid of the WASL. (That would have gone over real well with my Boss Lady.) Now I know that she has poor skills when it comes to managing her e-mail. When there are 6 different schools to interact with plus admin members, you really can't wait 4 - 8 weeks to read your messages. It kinda makes me wonder how the rest of her time management skills are.

In the end, though, I just have to remind myself to take a deep breath and count to 10. People like DC and her are not my only challenging cohorts and I have to learn to be effective in my dealings with them...whether I like it or not. It's part of my job now.

The Boss Lady tells me that part of my responsibilities beginning in the fall will include setting district science goals. I don't mind working on that (with plenty of input from staff, of course). I don't think teachers across the district will mind, either, because it means that each school doesn't have to come up with its own plan. What will be interesting is "where the rubber hits the road." Great, we've got our goals---what are each of us going to do about reaching them? Are you prepared to look at your inbox more than once a month? If not, what can I do to help you be able to do that?

It's going to make for some mighty interesting conversations in the fall.

21 May 2005

Oh, yeah?

As you already know, yesterday was a banner day for e-mail. But before DC and I had our entertaining exchange, the message below was in my e-mail inbox when I arrived at school. The header was "I Don't Want to Fail."

I will not be in school tomorrow till about lunch time, I have to go to the doctors in the mourning. And I need to know what I need for this quarter to get to you before you leave. I am expecting that you are going to leave like Mr. So-and-So to correct the A.P tests right. So I want to get everything done this weekend and get it to you on Monday Mourning. I will also be there before first period on Monday to finish that Final Exam if that is ok with you. I really want to graduate and I dont want the reason that I dont to be that I couldnt get caught up. Yes it is very hard to but I am trying my best for all my classes. So I was wondering if you could get anything together that i need to do this weekend and I can pick it up from your classroom after 6th period. I know that Lab 6 i have to do and that is all i know. Any notes you can leave me would help in any way, because i am not sure you stay there till 6th period. Thank you for time and energy because I know this is not that easy in your case or my own.

Sincerly,

Ms. Failing Senior (FS)

Let me give you some background on Ms. FS. She has missed 52 out of 71 school days this semester. She has turned in 1 assignment during the entire semester. One. Last time she asked for make-up work was the very last day of third quarter. I took pity on her, rounded up all the assignments that I could, made notes on them, gave her a grade printout, etc. She had all of Spring Break to do the work. She didn't do any of it. FS does have some medical issues, but last semester, she missed frequently because of them and still managed to pull out an A-. She's not a dumb cookie. She's just made a whole lot of bad choices this spring.

Why the difference this semester? She is "emancipated," meaning that she turned 18 and now writes her own notes for school, etc. She wants to be recognized as an adult in charge of decisions related to her schooling. (In the fall, mom was very conscientious about helping her daughter get work and complete it.) I know that Coach Brown has noted some similar problems with his seniors.

I did e her back later in the day. I told her that from what I could see in her records, she wasn't in any danger of not graduating if she didn't get credit for AP Bio. She has plenty of science credits. There is nary a D or an F anywhere on her transcript. She is managing to pass the two courses she is in that are required for graduation. I pointed out her attendance and lack of responsibility in getting make-up work. Finally, I told her that even if she made up all of the assignments for 4th quarter, there would not be enough points to pass. I thought that her time and energy would be better spent focusing on her required courses. I wished her well.

The part that I didn't tell her was how insulting it is to both me and her classmates that she thinks she can just do two batches of work and get a grade. Other students have personal issues, too. My life is not as stable as I would like. But we make the effort to get out of bed, go to school, and do the best we can. And if we can't make it, we start in the very next day seeing what it takes to make things better. Meanwhile, it was also insulting that she expected me (yet again) to drop everything that I had going in order to get her what she wanted that day. After all, I just sit around all day, right?

I've seen many students throughout the years who are convinced that turning 18 magically confers "adulthood." What they don't seem to understand is that they are accepting more responsibility and less freedom to do as they please. They are more accountable than ever for their actions. They need to have a great degree of self-discipline.

I don't like telling kids "no" and I certainly don't get a kick out of putting an "F" on their transcript. But in a case like this, when I kid decides a few days before they end of the semester that they don't want to fail, I just have to ask "Oh, yeah?"

20 May 2005

She said...He said...

I thought about last night's problem and wrote a bit. This morning, I woke up with some further ideas and incorporated them into my letter to the Difficult Colleague (DC). When I got to school, I told the assistant admin what I was going to say and why. I know he had advised DC a bit differently.

After some futher wordsmithing, here is what I sent DC (names and places have been altered, of course):

DC,

As usual these days, I will likely be out and about in the district for most of the afternoon. But I wanted to provide you with a response to your questions from yesterday. I appreciate you giving me some time to reflect on what you said and asked.


I'm sure that you will continue to gather input from various people in your life about your professional future. Most (or all) of us have had similar decisions in our past. And, like us, you're the only one who can make the choice about your fate. Personally, I think that a job with the cushy district is your "bird in the hand." You've expressed an interest in being able to work in the same school as your wife. You would have a simpler commute (with less negative impact on your family budget for gas and wear/tear on vehicles). You would likely have more time with your family and for yourself. I know that a full-time math position isn't your first choice of a teaching gig---but I'll bet that classes in science will soon be yours. It seems like you would have a better opportunity for collegial interactions because you would have your own classroom (instead of "floating"). Also, if you needed to do things outside of the school day (or your wife did), you would be there to support one another.

If you choose to stay here, there is no guarantee that your wife will be hired. Suppose the applicant pool for the positions is rich---and there are better qualified (by HR's definition) people for the jobs? We can't predict what will happen. I also don't feel completely confident that the department here will be able to "heal" if you stay. I think that there will be lingering hard feelings and trust will be very difficult (if not impossible) to re-establish. I have to say that my interactions with you have led to far more positive outcomes than negative ones. And even the negative ones provided me with good opportunities for discussion. You're right in that I can't speak on behalf of the entire department---and I don't want to. I can say that I have observed other department members very stressed after interactions with you. It upsets me greatly to hear about their trouble sleeping, that their reaction is to just "shut down" when you're there because of what they fear you'll say or do, and to see how dysfunctional things have become for the first time in 9 years (and with all sorts of department members during that time). The assistant admin may very well be right in that you shouldn't let one unfortunate experience colour your whole perception of things. But I don't think that what has happened within the department has been confined to one instance.

If I were you, I'd jump at the opportunity to start fresh and forge new relationships. As you know, there is no Utopia to be found anywhere in education. Problems here at school and within the district will not be immediately resolved---change may be happening, but it is going to be very slow. Organizations this size just can't turn on a dime, as much as we wish that they would. The cushy district has its own issues, but perhaps they won't bother you as much as the ones here do. The culture there may very well suit you better as a professional and lead to more personal happiness.

I truly believe that you're a good person and a good teacher. I think you deserve to have the kind of teaching environment where you feel you have the ability to be supported and encouraged. I just don't think that you will find what you need here anymore. That may be a sad thing to say, but it doesn't make anyone "bad." It just means that this school isn't a good fit for you while it is a nurturing environment for others. Being an educator is challenging enough without having the kind of place that helps feed your soul and keep you moving forward.

I wish you the best in making your decision and finding the kind of teaching job that's right for you. I have no doubt that kids will benefit from your talent, regardless of where you end up and what you teach.

The Science Goddess


I thought I was diplomatic and pretty positive. My intent was to give him a graceful way to exit our lives. Here is the reply I received:

Howdy:
I greatly appreciate your input. “Other members of the department” are not the only ones that have been stressed or losing sleep. It is very difficult to hear that the department is “dysfunctional” because of me. As can be very easily verified by talking to ANYONE at my other schools or in the Math Department here, I have always been thought of in the highest regard and a positive member of the staff.

So, in my mind what is different about this science department that specifically that causes issue? I have talked to numerous staff here and have had some good advice and input. If you do not have a problem with me, and another department member says that he does not, and Colleague Going to Teach in China and you (for the most part) are not here next year, then who is so upset that they cannot move beyond things and be professional? I feel that I have been attacked and made uncomfortable and singled out, but no one is addressing that. I have made the first move to extend the “olive branch,” which is more than others have done.

As I told Dr. Colleague, to be frank, this is not Survivor. The department does not vote members on or off the island. My boss is the principal and he has extended the invitation (along with assistant admin, math department chairs, athletic director and several others) to stay. Not as Dr. Colleague expressed because they are afraid of a law suit (I am a ‘P2’ and can be asked not back without cause) but maybe because they see some value in me. I seriously wonder why the department thinks that I have to “behave” in a certain manner and if not, then I can leave. I guess that is the root of my biggest concern. If some people in one department cannot work with me, then who is at fault? I am trying to bridge a gap. I will not be “run out” of a school because certain people who are employed right now and might not be here in the future cannot get over my supposed “attitude.”

I am not angry, just perplexed that there seems to be a strong “clique” mentality in Science and a propensity to force everyone to conform to one modality of doing business. I look at the interactions of other departments and staff and myself with other staff and the only “bad experience” keeps going back to one department and a couple of people (in my mind). So again, if “they” cannot get over whatever is bothering them, I am willing to do my part, but it is a two way street. Extremely derogatory remarks have been made about me and others without any punitive measure, but I am not ”allowed” to even be passionate or negative without offending someone. To me this is a serious double standard. Some of the remarks about me and other members of the department, made by Dr. Colleague specifically, I would not even come close to saying. I feel there is a lot said behind doors, I am least open and keep it about education.

I am sorry to be so long winded and take up your valuable time. This decision to stay or go is extremely difficult and needs to be carefully thought out. I am worried that a few or less people are trying to manipulate things (Which is why I am concerned about a conflict of interest with my wife applying so I will have to address that I guess since you bring it up.). I have always said this school is THE school on the Peninsula with the greatest potential, but I also believe (as does others) that we are not living up to that potential. We cannot effect change without the hard conversations and staff being willing to hear the good and the bad. I see change happening and am still willing to help in my way to bring about that change, however, I am not a “yes” man or “go with the flow” man either. As Albert Einstein said “Great spirits often meet violent opposition from mediocre minds.” (That is NOT implying that anyone has a ‘mediocre’ mind, just that controversy is inevitable when trying to accomplish enormous tasks.) Thank you for all your support.

Sincerely, DC


Or maybe I should call him "Dick"?

I have chosen not to reply to his message. There is nothing that I (or anyone else) could say that he would like to hear. He asked for my opinion...I voiced it...and got another round of his favourite tirades. He does love to play the victim in public and be the bully in private.

I saw the Assistant Admin later in the day. He was busy, but not so much that he couldn't look out his window at me and mouth "Oh. My. God." You see, DC had cc'ed his reply to the Assistant Admin. And for the first time, he got to find out just how DC treats his co-workers. I didn't get the feeling he was very impressed.

19 May 2005

The Red Queen Finally Catches a Break

Do you remember the Red Queen's advice to Alice in Through the Looking Glass? "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!'

Lately, I've felt a lot more like the Red Queen and a lot less like a Science Goddess. It seems I've been running very fast and just barely managing to keep my place. But the last few days have had some breaks in my favour. On Tuesday, a 3-hour meeting was reduced to one. Yesterday, an afternoon meeting was cancelled (meaning I could hang out with some cool friends and enjoy a glass...or two...of wine). And today? An evening event I was to help with next week has been tabled.

Meanwhile, there has been some drama in my department at school and tonight, I need to carefully craft a letter. You might remember that we have a rather difficult colleague. The truth is that as a professional he is a good teacher, has some very nice ideas, and excellent rapport with kids. The rest of the truth is that as a person he is a bully and a jerk (never with kids, only with staff members). He likes to be alone with our less experienced teachers and tell them that they know nothing about having a passion for teaching (yeah, that's why one of them left a $150K/yr job to teach 3 classes a day) and how he is right about everything. He yells and curses at them---but always away from others so that there are rarely any eye or earwitnesses. He pulled his crap on me once and I called him on it. He went back to picking on others. Several weeks ago, he removed all his personal items from our office and from his classroom. He has made no secret for months now that he wants to go elsewhere.

And now he has a job offer at a cushy district down the road. (This is also where his wife works.) It is a math job, but there will likely be some science in the future. So what's the problem? He wants to know if he should stay here...and have his wife apply for one of our soon to be vacant positions and come to our school.

Today, he asked me what it would take to mend fences with our science department...if that's possible. I told him that I would like to give him a thoughtful reply and have bought some time. The fact is, I want him to go away. And I'm not the only one who would jump for joy if he resigned. He's a good teacher and good for kids, but the damage he has wrought on my department members is great. The real kicker is that he is playing "the victim" in all of this.

Off with his head! (Maybe the Red Queen isn't quelled just yet...)

I have to find a nice way to word things before tomorrow. Oy. Maybe I should "run along" for now and do that.

:)

P.S. The Red Queen Hypothesis is also an interesting evolutionary concept, if you're interested.

UPDATE: Read the delightful exchange that happened between my Difficult Colleague and me here.

17 May 2005

When will the madness end? (Retirement?)

I was supposed to have a 4-hour meeting today with the math curriculum specialist and the literacy specialist in order to look at areas where standards in our various specialties overlap. The idea is to help "unburden" elementary teachers by showing them that if they're teaching something like "organizing information," that such a skill can be found in all areas. They needn't memorize all three sets of standards (with more on the way). Meanwhile, secondary teachers tend to be too compartmentalized. "I'm a math teacher...why should I give a rip about the reading standards...that's the English department's job." Putting together a document linking some of the big ideas might start some meaningful dialogue between teachers at that level.

But, we're all meeting-ed out. It's the end of the year and all three of us are beyond the definition of "overworked" and regardless of what the calendar shows, it seems there's no end in sight. So, we chatted about some ideas for an hour and called it good. We did come up with a fantastic idea to use...and I'll be the one to flesh it out. After all, next school year is only 3 months away.

16 May 2005

Chat Night

Monday night is "chat night" for me. For several years, it was Tuesday evening, but those of us who are diehards changed the evening and venue this year.

In January of 2000, I was going through some changes in my personal life and was looking for a way to reconnect and socialize a bit. I found a chat room on Delphi for "Teachers with an Attitude." Lo and behold, I had located...quite by accident...a group of educators who designated a time each Tuesday to talk about the things that bugged them about their jobs and ideas for coping in the meantime. (It also happened to be the place where I met my Sweetie, but that was certainly not the intent of visiting that room.)

It's hard for me to believe that I've been part of this group for 5+ years now. I know a lot about a variety of people, even though we've never met. We've seen one another (on-line) through all manner of personal and professional trials and tribulations. I know the best and worst about their jobs and families. And they have kindly let me use our forum to vent about my job and home life. We are quite the motley crew.

Perhaps blogs are the evolution of chat rooms. I know it isn't quite as interactive, but a blog and its readers are a kind of community, too. I'm still not ready to give up my old ways, however. I'm still off to chat on Monday nights with other "Teachers with an Attitude."

15 May 2005

Limping to the Finish Line

There are 23 actual days of school left. There are only 17 for me, when I factor out a day for an AP field trip, a professional leave day to deal with some school business, and 4 days at the end when I will be in Nebraska for the AP Reading. There are also 17 for seniors, although their days are factored a bit differently.

When I taught Jr. High, the school year always came to a nice coasting endpoint. Things were a little hectic during the last week. We had to give and grade finals and then prepare report cards all by the last day of school. But there was always some time for play, too. As a faculty, we had a grand ole time.

My experience with high school has provided a very different way to end the school year. There are four assemblies in four weeks: mock car crash, multicultural, jazz/gymnastics, and "moving up" (to honour the seniors). There are two awards nights. There are drama and band performances. Sports banquets. Elections for student offices. Oh, and classes and course finals, too. It seems like we're on a runaway train toward the last day of school. There is no time for fun along the way.

Everyone is tired. It has been 6 weeks since spring break, and it is still another 2 until we get a 3-day weekend for Memorial Day. As for me? My reward seems to be a headache that won't let up. On Friday, I was prescribed Robaxin and Ultracet along with cold compresses to help soothe the savage beast in my head. It is finally starting to work. This is a relief as I was thinking I would need amputation above the shoulders. I've been near comatose most of the weekend (these drugs are nice, but strong) and perhaps that's just what I needed. I have two more heavy duty weeks coming up.

To all of you out there facing these same challenges as the 2004 - 2005 school year comes to a close, I salute and support you. We all have to hang in there for just a bit longer. How about meeting for a brew afterwards?

14 May 2005

Alphabet Soup

Oh, how education loves its buzzwords and acronyms. Here in Washington, we have EALRs, GLEs, and the WASL all courtesy of OSPI. My district is into PTL (Powerful Teaching and Learning...not a holdover from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker) and the STAR protocol (for classroom observations). We have CCL groups (collaborative coaching and learning) at many buildings. The list is, unfortunately, endless. Add to that all of the "new" terms such as capacity, readiness, and transformational leadership and working in education really does start to resemble a hearty swim in a bowl of alphabet soup.

My role as district Science Goddess makes it necessary for me to know all these terms and say them with a smile on my face. When I am working with other teachers, I often feel that I am a translator. We look at documents from the state or district and I work as an interpreter so that we can find some meaning together.

The biology teachers at my school, along with the science department chair, have recently been working on some curriculum alignment. We have spent 3 hours each of the last two Wednesdays to talk about making the standards a meaningful part of our work with students. Of the five of us doing this work, only two will be part of getting the work implemented. Our department chair teaches chemistry, another teacher is going to teach in Beijing for two years, and I will only have 1 class. The two who are going to have to "walk the walk" are still in the early years of their career. One is a third year teacher. The other has a bit more experience, but has only taught biology for four years.

A-ha! Now is the perfect time for transformational leadership.

As I understand it, transformational leadership is when someone with a bit more depth of knowledge and experience supports someone else to step up to a role so that the "mentor" can move on to something else. I've been wondering how this might work at my school. And on Thursday, I got my answer. One of the two biology teachers who is staying on sent the most amazing e-mail regarding our Wednesday meeting. He praised our work from Wednesday, outlined what he thought would be our best next steps, and assigned us some tasks to follow up on. He even set the next meeting date and time. How cool is that?

Okay, so maybe believing this is a cool thing makes me a nerd. But here is someone who is willing to step up and help other teachers (and we will likely have 3 new bio teachers in my building next year) work with the curriculum and promote student achievement. The real message is that out of all the alphabet soup, here is someone who is willing to make it into something palatable for kids.

For kids.

13 May 2005

Accreditation

Yesterday was the culminating event of some planning I have been involved with all year. It was our accreditation visit. I'm not sure how important accreditation is anymore, even though schools still jump the hoops. I wonder if colleges and universities really do check to see if applicants are coming from schools that are "accredited."

Anyway, we have been running the requisite obstacle course this year. A variety of staff members from around our district, some local businessmen, and a couple of teachers from other towns came together to have a look at our school yesterday. They were "evaluating" us on our progress regarding the overall school improvement plan we developed seven (!) years ago, along with our yearly goals.

When I started seeing and talking to people right before lunch, I wasn't sure how things were going. And the more I chatted with our visitors, the more I worried that our school wasn't looking too good. There were lots of comments about how unengaged kids were...how much "down time" there seemed to be throughout classrooms. We did have a ton of subs in the building yesterday, so that may have had something to do with a lack of "bell-to-bell" instruction throughout the building. I felt a little embarrassed. I know our school is far from perfect, but I like to think we're not too bad, either.

I hauled my carcass up to the principal's office this morning to see what the comments were. I felt better after reading them. There were lots of "commendations" and also some very good "recommendations." The Principal is his usual clueless self. So, I've been asked to advise him how to process the information with staff. I have to admit that my heart isn't too far into the task. Now that I am seeing myself in more of a district role than teacher role, my pure allegiances to my school are waning. It's time for someone else to step up.

More on that idea tomorrow.

12 May 2005

Is it Friday yet?

The past two days have had me on the run. My classes are involved in all manner of things. Yesterday, I had another 3-hour after school planning session for the biology curriculum at our school. Today was the day for our school's accreditation visit. By the end of my teaching day, I'd had 3 visitors...then had to run and set up their lunch...and answer more questions. I had a 1 p.m. meeting with the Boss Lady regarding my role for next year and then a 2 - 4 p.m. meeting with other curriculum specialists to plan the August back-to-school days. And there is no end to the madness. The next two weeks look as bad or worse as these past two.

I know: bitch, bitch, bitch.

10 May 2005

Making Choices

I suppose not every AP Bio student yesterday had a happy day. Take this one, for example. A high school senior in New Hampshire will not graduate because she took AP Biology instead of a gym class.

The student had been attending school in Seattle and moved last year. As the article notes, waivers for PE credits are given in this part of the country to students like this one who are engaged in varsity athletics and are taking a heavy academic load. Mind you, a lot of that is at the discretion of the principal or counselor. Very few waivers are granted. Her waiver didn't transfer to her new school.

There is a somewhat happy ending for the story. The student has already been accepted to college (where she plans to major in biology). So, as long as she gets her GED between now and the fall, she can continue on with her future plans. I do think it's a shame that she can't walk at graduation and get her diploma.

She did have a choice. Although she was poorly advised last spring when signing up for classes for her senior year, she did have an opportunity to make the change and take the PE class. But it would have meant dropping AP Bio or Calculus and she was more interested in her academics. I can't decide if she "cut her nose to spite her face" or if I should applaud her for knowing what she wants. I suppose all I can really do is wish her the best for the future...and a "5" on The Test.

09 May 2005

Nailed it!

Today, as you know, was the day of The Test: the mother of all biology tests, a/k/a "AP Biology." I have been fretting over how well I've been able to help students prepare this year. In the past, kids have returned from the test not feeling too good about things---even when it turned out that they did well. But today was different. Today, they came to lunch with smiles on their faces and all sorts of positive energy. They felt like The Test was easy. I told them that I thought that was good---if they've worked hard, then it should be easy. I am so very pleased for all of them. Of course, I won't know their scores until August, but waiting should be easier.

While my APers were testing, I took my sophs to an elementary school. In March, my kids had made pop-up books about human body systems. The books had to target the 5th Grade Level Expectations for body stuff. This was their day to go and show off their work. They did a marvelous job in both creating the books and in working with young students. I was very proud of them. Since I'll no longer have sophs next year, I will miss this particular project. I have done it for 7 years now and it is always one of my favourites.

I feel like all is right with the world for the time being. There aren't many days in this profession where that happens. But today, today is a great day to be a teacher.

08 May 2005

Science in (Con)Text

I received a link to this article earlier in the week. It points out some of the very unscientific things that can be found in current science textbooks. Some of the information is rather frightening:
  • A chapter on climate in a fifth-grade science textbook in the Discovery Works series, published by Houghton Mifflin (2000), opens with a Native American explanation for the changing seasons: "Crow moon is the name given to spring because that is when the crows return. April is the month of Sprouting Grass Moon." Students meander through three pages of Algonquin lore before they learn that climate is affected by the rotation and tilt of Earth--not by the return of the crows.
  • Al Roker, the affable black NBC weatherman, is hailed as a great scientist in one book in the Discovery Works series. It is common to find Marie Curie given a picture and half a page of text, but her husband, Pierre, who shared a Nobel Prize with her, relegated to the role of supportive spouse.
  • Jews have been awarded 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes in science, but readers of Houghton Mifflin's fifth-grade textbooks won't get wind of that. Navajo physicist Fred Begay, however, merits half a page for his study of Navajo medicine. Albert Einstein isn't mentioned. Biologist Clifton Poodry has made no noteworthy scientific discoveries, but he was born on the Tonawanda Seneca Indian reservation, so his picture is shown in Glenco/McGraw-Hill's Life Science (2002), a middle-school biology textbook. The head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, and Nobel Laureates James Watson, Maurice H.F. Wilkins, and Francis Crick aren't named.

Now, I'm not frightened by the idea of diversity in textbooks. I believe that it's way past time that we included more than just dead white guys in the pantheon of science. I want my students of colour, students from various religious backgrounds, and students with disabilities to know that those attributes do not limit their choices in life. The role of being a scientist is not relegated to those with pale skin, tonsorial challenges, and a penis. However, those who might fit that description and who made significant contributions shouldn't be ignored in the name of multiculturalism. How does that help a student become scientifically literate? It seems to me that there are plenty of women/minorities who might be better suited for fabulous examples in textbooks instead of Al Roker.

As if the previous information weren't depressing enough, consider the following:

A study commissioned by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 2001 found 500 pages of scientific error in 12 middle-school textbooks used by 85 percent of the students in the country. One misstates Newton's first law of motion. Another says humans can't hear elephants. Another confuses "gravity" with "gravitational acceleration." Another shows the equator running through the United States.

In my district, we have several issues like this with textbooks. The current Earth Science tome shows the Earth orbiting the sun in the opposite direction. (I know, just tell the kids to turn their books upside down.) Our biology book is pathetic---we've been keeping a running list of all its failings. We will be looking at adopting new materials for Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science next year. I'm not too hopeful that we will find much better than we have now, especially if this report by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science is correct.

What's a Science Goddess to do? Well, I'm not quite ready to write a textbook. And, more and more teachers are moving away from a text based science course, which will also help. I suppose that as teachers in my district look at materials next year, we will just have to be as judicious as possible in choosing materials that are factual. We can't count on the publishers to have done their homework on that front. We will also need to be on the lookout for a program that represents diversity not for the sake of trying to include people of colour and faith---but people of colour and faith who should be recognized for their scientific work (not their work on a morning show). And, finally, we will need to find a program that is more inquiry based, so that students can learn on their own what constitutes "good science." If anyone has some good suggestions, please send them my way.

07 May 2005

Where are they now?

One thing that is difficult about the business of education is that there are lots of people you lose track of. Kids graduate and move on with their lives...colleagues come and go from your school.

Before moving up here and taking a position at my current school, I taught in NM for 5 years. It's hard for me to accept that the 6th graders I had there my last year will be entering their senior year of college this fall. I had several wonderful teaching friends there, and over the years, I have lost track of them. The website for my old school hasn't been updated since 2000, so it is hard to say how many of my former colleagues are still there...much less contact them. I did "google" a couple of names here and there to see if I could scavenge some information. I didn't come up with very much.

In another month, the ninth group of seniors I've had will graduate. Again, it's hard to imagine what my first group is now doing...as they enter their late 20's. I do hear from former students from time to time, but mostly during the first year after graduation. One exception is a student I had in my first AP class---who is receiving a Mary Gates scholarship on Friday for her undergraduate research. I've been invited to see her receive her award and am strongly considering going. I need to see these successes. There are too many kids I hear about who have fallen into drugs, dropped out from their schooling (or lives in general), or have died.

I watched this year's crop of AP kids today at our review. I loved to watch them play and enjoy being teens. I like knowing that whatever path they take that I will always have this memory of them: young and full of life. What a wonderful way to be. And what a nice way for me to let them go into their futures and not ache at wondering "Where are they now?" when this time rolls around next year.

06 May 2005

The Calm Before the Storm

I took a half day of leave this afternoon. This means that my sub (who showed up 15 minutes late), only had to cover 30 minutes of class time with kids and get paid for a half day's work. Why didn't I just stick around the extra 30 minutes and then sneak off for the afternoon? I did think about it, but (a) with my luck, I'd get caught...and really there's no excuse for just skipping work and (b) I did leave a half day's work for the sub. She got to spend her afternoon marking all the labs and exams that came in today. :) Sounds like a great deal to me.

I have spent part of my afternoon preparing for tomorrow's big review with my AP kids. (The other part of the afternoon I spent napping.) I have the car packed up with everything but the perishable food items. I have some indoor and outdoor games for them to play when we take a break. I have the materials gathered for AP Lab 9, which we need to run tomorrow in case it is the basis for an essay on The Test. I believe I have enough food to feed 20 teenagers. However, there may not be enough food in the world for such a crowd. I have provided them with outlines of the material, practice essays, graphic organizers for their information, and more. I have another practice test to work through with them tomorrow. The rain is supposed to hold off until later in the afternoon (hopefully about the time we wrap up) so that we can get out on the beach and into the woods for some review of plants and animals.

This is the third year I've hosted a big review for my kiddos. Does it make a difference in their scores? There's no way to tell. I like to think the extra attention and confidence boost they get can give them a small edge. I hope that they get a few items cleared up and identify a few more that they can focus on before Monday morning.

A kid who can take on and deal efficiently with the AP Biology curriculum is something special. I hope that tomorrow, they will truly feel that way.

05 May 2005

Looking Ahead

I am fortunate to work in a department with people who not only have a passion for science, but take pride in their craft. Four of us sat down yesterday afternoon for the first of two marathon planning sessions. Now that the state has provided a set of standards for us to teach, what will we do with them in our biology classes?

In the fall, we spent some time determining which standards would be targeted each quarter. This will help coordinate things a bit between teachers, although we don't plan on being "lockstep:" each teacher doing the same lesson at the same time. However, teachers could work on building common lessons/labs (if they chose), doing them with students, and then talking about the results and improving them.

There was some very good discussion last night. Where are we all philosophically in terms of curriculum and what "biology" means? What would we like to add to the document we started in the fall?

I was a little disappointed that we didn't end up doing more. Not because the discussion wasn't valuable or necessary, but rather that time is so precious. It's so difficult to get everyone's schedules to coordinate enough to have a block of time to work. Let's work. Also, some of the things that were discussed/chosen to try next year aren't ideas I'm entirely sold on. This doesn't make them bad ideas, it just means that they don't suit my particular style of doing things. I worked to remind myself that I'm not having to teach this curriculum in coming years. As long as the teachers who do have to carry out the plan are excited about it, that's what matters. They will have to be the department leaders next year. Whatever makes it doable for them is most important.

Today, I had a meeting with the Boss Lady and the Gent in Charge of Facilities regarding what we can scope out for the two junior high schools needing upgrades before the Science Recommendations are implemented. I'm feeling very positive about things. Support throughout this process has been positive and significant.

I am continuing to look ahead to next year. In a few days, I will meet with the Boss Lady again to talk about my role next year. I have some small clue about what I'm supposed to do, but I need to hear her vision, too. She mentioned today that she doesn't know where they'll put me...which I assume means that she wants me to work out of the Curriculum office rather than out of a cubbyhole in my building. This makes sense in a lot of ways, but I will miss my stronger ties to the "home" building.

Tomorrow is my last class day before The Test. Twenty out of my twenty-one test takers are coming out to my neck of the woods on Saturday to do some more review. But we really have reached the end of our preparations. Our time of "looking ahead" to The Test is almost finished.

For now, I think I'll just look ahead to a quiet Thursday evening. :)

04 May 2005

Meetings out the Wazoo

And you know how much that can hurt a gal.

Anyway, this month seems to be chock full of meetings for me. Today, I had a nice 3 hour one after school for biology curriculum planning. Tomorrow, I have a 7 a.m. meeting...and then one at 1 p.m. I think tomorrow is the only day this week that someone hasn't laid claim to my time, although the cable guy is supposed to pay a visit.

Next week is not looking much better. But there are only 30 more days of school, so at least the madness will end at some point.

I wish I had something more exciting to report. My APers are still making their way toward the test (and I have a lot of prep to do before our big Saturday review). My sophs are plugging away on their pig dissection. And all is well with the remainder of my world.

Please do stop by Jenny D.'s place and check out this week's Carnival of Education. Lots of goodies to be had there.

03 May 2005

Sooo-eee!

If you've been following allowing with this merry blog for awhile, you know that there are certain rhythms to my school year: infectious disease month...sex month...and now, for your pleasure: fetal pig week.

Yes, the first week in May is the time of year when my sophs make it to their ultimate dissection opportunity. We've already had a tour of the various body systems. The fetal pig is their chance to see these systems "in situ." Pigs also have organs that are roughly the same size and are in the same location as humans. Since we can't afford cadavers, pigs are the next best thing.

Kids often wonder if fetal pigs were "produced" just for classroom use, so I always spend a few minutes at the beginning talking to them about the origins of our specimens---and what would have become of them had a scientific supply company not purchased them.

As you might imagine, there is a bit of squeamishness and horror at first. But in nine years of doing this particular lab, I have only had one student become ill...and one refuse. The rest participate in one way or another. Most say at the end that even if things were a little yukky, they actually liked having the opportunity. It gave them a chance to truly understand the size and location of their own internal organs...and to see how everything fits together. I think some also start to realize just how connected we are with other species.

I feel a little nostalgic this year. This is my last year doing this lab---at least for awhile. Next year will bring all sorts of new rhythms to the day and school year. I am looking forward to that, but I certainly won't forget some of the others which have become part of my existence.

01 May 2005

The Test is Coming! The Test is Coming!

It's about this time each year that I start to get nervous. And I'm not even the one who has to take The Test. But this year, I have 21 kids who do. In just over a week, they will face down the AP Biology Exam.

What's at stake? A lot, in some ways. They pay $83 to take the test. Depending upon their score (and the college they attend), they can get credit for their score. Savings on tuition, room, and board can be up to $4000 for one of our state schools. If you're a kid who is going to struggle to pay for college, it's worth your efforts to score well on The Test.

Yes, we've worked hard all year. Yes, we've done all but one of the requisite labs. We've taken a practice test and talked about strategies for multiple choice and free response questions. On Saturday, the kids are coming over to spend the day with me. We'll run the final lab...take a walk on the beach and through the woods to review plants, animals, and taxonomy. We'll eat and play and build up our confidence as best we can.

But I want so much for them to do well. That's why I get nervous. I know they've worked hard. I want them to be rewarded.

I hate that each year when my kids return from The Exam that they look so defeated. We always go to lunch together and try to relax. I do my best to make them feel better about their efforts and to get them to celebrate their accomplishments. Even if they don't "pass" The Test, I always hope that they'll feel like it was worth it just to try.

Anyway, I plan on a lot of tossing and turning the next few nights. I'll be glad when this annual event passes.