Listening Skills (or reading skills for that matter).

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Every teacher (or parent for that matter) has experienced the lack of listening skills that kids have.  You painstakingly review the instructions with the students and then write the steps out on the board/smartboard and even have the kids repeat back to you what they need to do but inevitably you have students come up to you and ask what they need to do next…. and you hold your breath, give them what you hope isn’t as murderous of a look as you think it might be in your head and point to the board.  This happens so frequently in my classroom that it has become a norm of sorts. These are kids here so I forgive and move on quickly and hope that they don’t do it again.

Even more maddening is when adults do this.  I recently got the go ahead to start work on our next mosaic project with my now 7th graders.  As you might remember, I don’t have my students for the whole year but rather a quarter so in order to work with every student before my deadline I need to seek out the 7th grade core teachers and find a time that works best for them.  This year I’m starting very early so that I can pull them from their “E-Block” time.  The “E-Block” is a study-hall of sorts where some kids might work on homework, make up tests, seek out a teacher for extra help, or read a silent reading book.  So at the beginning of the week I sent all of the teachers the following email:

Hi Everyone!

I was just given the go-ahead to start the ball rolling for another mosaic for our 7th graders which means I need to start figuring out when you guys would be the least inconvenienced to work with your students.  This year I was thinking that I could work with students during their day 4 E block (which is my prep time) if that is ok with all of you? Because this doesn’t period doesn’t meet as often as AST did last year I would like to start this as soon as benchmarks are finished on the first 4 day (September 20th).  I will leave it up to you if you would like to bring your kids

Is this ok with everyone and would anyone like to go first?

Now I thought that this was pretty straight forward here, Am I wrong? Apparently I must be wrong because I had not one but two teachers email me back asking when do I want their students.  I know it is difficult and we all have a lot on our plates- BELIEVE ME THIS I UNDERSTAND- but if we expect our students to read all of the directions, shouldn’t we hold ourselves and our colleagues to the same standards?

How would you handle this?

K-

Starting the year off with a bang! The first few days of school.

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This year I pulled a fast one on my students.  I have always started my first day of school going over my classroom syllabus and talking about the rules of the art room.  This means I talk for four classes straight and usually means I’m completely bored out of my mind but it was what I was taught to do in college and it is what all of my colleges do.  As you might recall, I teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.  This means the 7th graders and 8th graders have had me before for at least a year.  They know me.  They know my style.  They know what is going to get them in trouble. And they know what they can get away with too.

So a few weeks before school started I started to toy with an idea.  What if with my 7th and 8th graders I don’t do what I always do.  What if I start them on projects on the first day? Then I’m not bored and I actually gain a whole teaching day back.  Taking this a step further- because lets be honest, I can’t do anything simply- I wanted to really blow my 8th graders minds and do something so unexpected that they would practically fall off their seats….so I started with CLAY.

My first class on the first day was 8th grade.  The students came in and I put them in their assigned seats (I swear by assigned seats- it totally sets the mentality that you the teacher are in charge).  Then I passed out my usual Art Expectations rubric but assigned a due date to have them bring it in signed for a quiz grade and then had them put it away.  Honestly, they looked so confused already.

Next I said I wanted to start a project with them, but not any project- Clay! One of the students actually shook his head in surprise and said REALLY?! I can say with complete certainty that I was their favorite teacher that day.

Now I’m in the second week of school and the kiln is sweetly humming the the background as I write this post and that means the students will already have one whole project done and we have only been in school for eight days!

This is going to be my new normal. I highly recommend it to all of my art teacher friends out there.

K-

Back from summer- an update.

So I think I unintentionally left you on a cliff hanger with my last post about our budget cuts.  So here is what happened:

My job is safe and I am ever so thankful to have stayed in this district and with these students but not everyone was so lucky.  We did lose a few young teachers last year (much less than the 16 teachers that were predicted) and because of this we had a bumping situation happen too.

One of my good friends who has been teaching in the district a little longer than me was bumped to another school and to another subject that he is certified in too.  Good news is that he has a job and his young family doesn’t need to panic but I’m sure it is a huge adjustment for him.  The position he took was of someone who lost their job and worse yet, didn’t find another one.  My heart achs for that person, I know how hard it is to sit on the sidelines after finding something you love to do.

That is the update for now…. another post to come in the next few days.

K-

Impending doom…School budget cuts.

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I have been thinking about how and when to write this blog post for awhile…. I was hoping that this year it wouldn’t be relevant and that I could save this for another time but unfortunately it is relevant now.

I feel like the biggest disservice that colleges and educational prep programs don’t tell you about as a student interested in entering the education field is that your job will be in jeopardy every year and you will have zero control of it. 

If you know me well, you will know that every spring I start to panic.  Nightmares, sweaty palms, the works.  Why might you ask? Because every spring the Board of Education of whatever town I teach in makes a request to the town/city for the budget for the next year.  Every year the town/city must decide how much of that request they will grant to the Board of Education.  And every year (at least for the towns I have worked for) that request is drastically cut.  What does this mean for the teachers in that town/city? Potentially losing our jobs. 

At my first time, full time, teaching gig I was blissfully unaware of this.  I have no idea what a “pink-slip” was.  The first year the BOE didn’t request any additional funds  from the town/city and my first year closed without any budget drama.

I was not so lucky in my second year.  That year the teacher’s contract was up and they negotiated a step increase after 4 years of step freeze.  (For those of you who don’t know what this means, the teachers had not received a single pay raise for four years and the new contract meant that everyone would be getting a small raise- for me it would have been roughly a $900 increase).  Because of this new contract and the step increase the BOE had to request a larger budget to cover it.  When it was brought before the town/city, the increase was denied. In addition to the denial of any additional funds, the town decided to close two of the schools in the district.  With this news, over 50 teachers-myself included- would receive “pink-slips”.

When teachers are “pink-slipped” it is never by how good or bad of teacher you are.  It is solely based on how long you have been there…down to the minute you signed your contract even.  You can be an outstanding teacher, teacher of the year worthy, but you have only been teaching for three years in that district and bam, you get pink slipped.  It is sad.

What did all of this mean for me? Well I was “bumped”.  I lost my job.  I cried.  A lot.  and the worst part of it? This happened in March.  Why was this the worst of it? Because teaching is the only profession where you get a pink slip, know that you don’t have a job next year and are still expected to teach your students until the end of the school year.  Let that sink in for a second.  Keep working to the level that you have been even though you have essentially been let go from your position.  And if you even think that you will slack off a little bit? Well you still need the principal to write you an awesome recommendation so you can hopefully get another job.

I finished out the school year and applied and applied and applied.  I had a couple of bites but nothing worked out for me for the next year.  I was laid off from teaching for an entire year.  During that time I collected unemployment and I volunteered at a couple of schools to keep my head in the game and learn from other teachers while I wasn’t working.

Flash forward a few years- I have a job that I love and am a tenured teacher now.  Every year I still get the nightmares and the sweaty palms come spring time.  And it seems that this year my current town/city is about to go through a very similar situation.  We have a step increase this coming year and the town/city has not allocated enough new funds to cover the step increase for next year.  Every non-tenured teacher has received a pink-slip.  I was told by a union rep that 16 teachers will be let go and that programs will be scaled back.  While I didn’t receive a pink-slip because I am tenured, if my program is scaled back it will be me who loses a job.  It is simply unbelievable and heartbreaking to think that no matter how good of a teacher I am, it doesn’t matter.  I am the lowest man on the totem pole for my department and if they cut my department I will have no recourse.

I feel that anyone who wants to enter teaching should know this information.  Your career is not necessarily in your control when teaching.  If you are truly passionate about teaching, teach.  If you aren’t sure, please run in the other direction.

Only time will tell how the chips will fall this year.  One thing is for sure, my district is about to lose some great, young and enthusiastic teachers and the students are going to suffer because of it.

K-

It never fails…..Interruptions.

There is that joke,”What does and interrupting cow say?” Wha-” “MOOOOOO!”

“Hi kiddos, last class we were talking about contour lines”. *ring, ring*- “Hold on a second kiddos.” “Can so and so come pick up their gym clothes at the office?”  “Sure.  So and so, go grab your gym clothes. Oh you don’t even have gym today? Ok, well go grab them anyway.”

“So guys, we were talking about contour lines and figure drawing like Keith Haring.  Tell me some of the things you remember from our Power Point last class.” I call on a student who starts to give me some great answers and….*ring, ring* “Hold that thought”.  Send so and so to the office to speak with the vice principal.

To so and so, “go down to the office.  No I don’t know if you are in trouble”. Student leaves.  “I know what he did!” “OOOOO, tell us!” “Kiddos, lets get back to our discussion.” *ring, ring* ugh…. “Please also send so and so” (the kid who is in the ‘know’ is also in trouble).  “So and so, head to the office” kid turns white.

“Ok kiddos, sorry for all the interruptions, lets get started before we get another call” (we all giggle). *Ring, Ring* Really?! This time it is the guidance office and they need three of my students.  If you are doing the math I have just lost 5 of my students in less than 5 minutes.

A few minutes later we are finally in a groove.  Projects are out.  Paint is poured and the kids are mixing their own colors.  I am going over the next step with the class- actively demonstrating on the whiteboard and……. In walk two 8th graders who immediately ask me for supplies for their science project… “Mrs. Art teacher, can we have large sheets of paper, paint and brushes?” No excuse me, no sorry for interrupting your class, no PLEASE!!!!

Sorry 8th graders, but you were the straw that broke the camels back today.  If there were some manners involved with those 8th graders, they might have walked away with everything that they asked….but lets just say they walked away empty handed today…

Unfortunately, this happens at least a few times a week.  Teachers call and interrupt. The office calls and interrupts.  Teachers walk into my room and start trying to have a conversation with me WHILE I am actively teaching.  Students walk in and often demand supplies for projects that they were supposed to get on their own.

The best and worst part of today’s interruptions? Luckily for me, my principal happened to be sitting discretely in the back of my classroom to witness all of the interruptions that happened.  He made mention of it later in the day and asked how often this happens….he wasn’t happy that it happens so frequently and has said he would speak to the offending parties! Possible win for me!

Is it just me or does this happen to you guys too?

K-

Dear students….

Sometimes you just wish you could write a letter to your students….

Dear students,

I like you, most of the time….like 96% of the time.  I respect you and listen to you and try to teach you cool things every day- or at least give you a break from those math equations.  I thought we had a good thing going.  Oh you like me too? Well 91% of the time you do? Oh that is great! Just one question….WHY DID YOU JUST LET ME WALK AROUND ALL DAY WITH GREEN PAINT ON MY FACE?!?!?!!? Remember that time you had pencil on your face and an discreetly whispered to you about it while handing you a mirror and letting you go hide out in the back room while you washed it off? WHY COULDN’T YOU DO THE SAME FOR ME?!

Sincerely, your very perplexed art teacher.

Seriously people, I painted with my 6th graders 1st period today…. A fellow teacher didn’t tell me about the paint until lunch time…. I had three classes of students between the painting and the, “uh, do you know you have green paint on your forehead?” WHY YES, this was the look I was going for today…..

I seriously need to develop some kind of routine when I leave my class.

Step 1: Check face in mirror.

Step 2: Check butt in mirror (how many times did I think I was wiping my hands on my apron only to find dried up clay on my pants…)

Step 3 (optional if pregnant): Check baby bump to make sure that nothing has collected on it. This isn’t a problem for me currently but when it was, oh boy it was quite the shelf for eraser shavings….

Maybe I can just develop some kind of walk through self cleaning system for my classroom-think car wash for the art teacher.

K- AKA- the one walking through her school with the green paint…..sheesh

Getting ready: 4th quarter here we come!

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The fourth quarter begins this week and I am both excited and amazed.  It seems that this year has really flown by.  I will get my last batch of new students in a couple of days so I am in the process of getting my room and my materials ready.  Since I have been doing this for a few years now, I have a lot of my preparations down to a science and don’t really have to think about it too much but this isn’t necessarily the case for all new(er) teachers.  Thinking back to my first year of teaching I was pretty clueless about the things that I needed to do to make sure my year/quarter was successful. I feel that there are some basic things that every teacher can do to make their teaching experience easier.

Seating charts and attendance grids. Once upon a time, I was naive and didn’t know that I should assign seats for the first day of class….I mean, this is the ART room after all! I wanted the kids to be able to relax and sit with their friends so they could socialize with their peers….WHAT AN IDIOT I WAS.  I have now come down from the cloud and realize that by choosing their seats for them, I set the tone for the class as their leader.  I choose the seat that I feel they will be the most successful in and it makes all of the difference.  I am lucky in that my school uses Power Teacher and one of the perks that comes with that program is the ability to create seating charts with the students’ pictures and names.  This is an added bonus when I have a substitute teacher in my room and the kids try to change seats on the poor unsuspecting sub.  It is also nice when the marking period is in full swing, I can casually sweep the room to see who is out without having to disturb the work process.

Rules and expectations.  On the first day of class I hand out a Rules and Expectations sheet that details the things I expect from my students and the consequences for not following the classroom rules.  I call on the students around the room-at random- to read each section.  At the end, I ask if there are questions on any section of the handout and then have the students sign it (after explaining that you shouldn’t sign things you don’t understand or didn’t thoroughly read-life lessons from the art room!).  The students then bring this paper home to be signed by their parent/guardian (whoever is at home helping them cook and do laundry) and return it for a quiz grade.  I then hold on to their signed Expectations until the end of the quarter just in case a parent has an questions or “I didn’t know about that” situations…. If they do, you can pull out the Expectations and refer the fact that they signed it (remember that life lessons part??).  Boom. Super satisfing when a parent is trying to argue with you.

Folders.  Bottom line? Students are forgetful.  I give each of the students a folder that lives in my classroom so they never have the excuse that they forgot their folder.

Work packets.  Every year I assign a packet of activities for students to work on when they have any “down time”.  The packet is filled with different drawing assignments, vocabulary word finds coloring pages, etc.  The students will keep these packets in their classroom folders and work on them any time they are waiting for a project to dry, waiting for help on a project, finish up a project before the rest of the class, etc.  These work packets are great because the students essentially always have something to do or work on.  I train the kids early to always work on their packet while they are waiting so that they are never idle.  My administrators LOVE this- “Maximize the time spent on task”.

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Rubrics for every assignment/project.  I think it is essential to the success of every student (and your own sanity) to have a rubric with a self evaluation for every project/assignment that you create with the students.  I always include the title, a quick description of the project, a few vocabulary words and a chart of that details the description of each step of the project, the points you can earn, a section for the student to reflect on how they did and finally a section for me the teacher for their grade for each section.  When we start a project I go over this rubric carefully with the students- usually in conjunction with a Power Point.  I then demonstrate what I am looking for for each step.  When the students go to turn in their project, they reflect on how they did on any particular step and grade them selves.  This helps guide me when I grade them as an indicator of how hard they tried on a particular step.  The rubric also gives them time to go back and fix any mistakes they might have made or not included in their project.

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These are just a few of the things that I do to get ready for my new students.  For my veteran teachers reading this, I am always looking for new things to make my year/quarter run smoothly- What do you do to get ready?

K-