all in a day’s work

If Tina Fey is to have any success producing my dramedy, it is absolutely necessary that she understand the timeline of a “typical” day for me and many other educators.

6:00 AM – Alarm goes off.  Get out of bed.

7:30 AM – Leave house after getting myself ready and dog fed.  Husband rides with me.

7:50 AM – Drop off husband at work.

8:15 AM – Arrive at school.  Sign in.  Check email.  Conference with another teacher about student judge making out in hallway.  Make copies for 1st period.

8:35 AM – Hallways open to students.  Must stand in the hallway until 1st period begins.

8:55 AM – 1st period.  Two students enter late.  Today’s class consists of historical character speed dating.  It was successful.

9:43 AM – End of 1st period.  Begin planning period.  Check email.  Attempt parent phone calls to numbers that are incorrect or disconnected.  Document the attempts.  Make copies for rest of day.  Read article for tomorrow’s meeting re: summative and formative assessments.  Prepare test for 3rd period (aka get remotes set up).

10:29 AM – 3rd period.  The ones with the attitudes (ironic in a high school).  Several latecomers.  One incessant talker.  Confiscate contraband (aka mp3 player).  Administer test.  Confiscate more contraband (cell phone).  Speak to students after class about discipline violations, importance of classroom behavior, making parent contact, yada yada yada.

11:35 AM – 4th period.  Seminar.  Academically gifted students.  Feel bipolar going from 3rd to 4th period.  Introduce mock trial case and guidelines.  Watch with amazement as they analyze, work, decide and create with authority.

12:30 PM – Lunch.  Make copies for next class.  Play nurse to a sick student who needs a place to rest her head.  Conference with colleague on imminent legislation that will end state End-of-Course (EOC) exams in Civics & Economics as well as U.S. History.  Respond to email from County coordinator.  Go to the bathroom.  Eat.

1:05 PM – 5th/6th block class.  Constitutional scavenger hunt.  Dazzle them with my Prezi skills.  Field countless questions about census counts, qualifications to be legislator, Joe Biden’s teeth, the Cabinet, age of consent, gay marriage.

2:47 – Block class ends.  7th period planning.  Enter grades from 1st period.  Grade tests from 3rd period.  Email another student’s mom.  Document the communication.  Send out reminder about Student Court tomorrow afternoon.  Conference with teacher about another student judge with an attitude problem.  Consider summer employment opportunities.

3:30 – Make way to front hallway for afternoon duty.  Discuss this article with colleague.  Agree that we have known this for years, but we aren’t from Harvard so it didn’t matter.  Bemoan the fact that researchers with no substantial classroom experience make educational policy decisions.

3:40 PM – School day ends.

3:50 PM – Duty over, back to classroom.  More grading, type up minutes from last week’s School Improvement Team meeting (of which I am the co-chair), finish grading tests, clean up messes left behind by teenagers coming in and out of classroom all day.

4:50 PM – Leave school to pick up husband with papers to grade in hand.

5:10 PM – Retrieve husband.  Landlord calls, wants to put tile in the kitchen to cover up hole from termites.  Meets us at home.

6:00 PM – Tile approved, landlord gone, pajamas on.  Begin grading, updating webpage, emailing parents.

7:00 PM – Wine.

8:00 PM – Go over lessons for tomorrow.  Have existential crisis about chosen career.  Convince myself it’s worth it.


epic fails in education

This weekend I thought it might be a good idea to catch up on some parent contact.  Each week I send out an email update to the parents of my students (the ones who have working email addresses), but personal communication is much more effective than a bulk email.  What I didn’t know was that I was about to embark on the most epic fail ever.

First I tried to make phone calls.  Two students in particular have been giving me big problems in one class.  They’ll probably start a riot this week.  Each has at least two phone numbers listed in our database.  None of them are valid.  None.  So I tried email.  As of 10:45 pm, every email address I tried was returned, for various reasons.  The most recent was returned because the user’s account was “suspended”, whatever that means.  Sometimes when I make parent phone calls, the number goes to the Dollar Tree.  Instead of giving their actual phone number, parents provide the number for the local Dollar Tree.

Tina Fey, when you produce my dramedy, pay close attention to the ridiculousness that is parent contact.  I am expected to solve in the classroom problems that started years ago at “home”.  Schools are not a remedy for every social issue the public faces.  They are merely a reflection of those problems.  If I am to fix those problems, then parents must also be held more accountable.  And give me donuts.

“it’s like they’re getting off scotch free.”

That’s an actual quote from one of my students today.  And it only got worse from there.

What’s that type of fallacy called, when you’re arguing, but then your argument falls apart because of a flaw?  Oh right, it’s called a LIE.  I caught my student in one today.  Imagine you’re a 15-year old, and you loan your cell phone to a friend.  Then, imagine that the teacher spots your friend texting on it during class and confiscates it.  You are upset.  You claim that you need it back right away because you are leaving early to go out of town.  Being the reasonable teacher that I am, I strike up a deal – stop by my room on your way out of town and you can get your phone back in exchange for a lecture and a cold stare.  Done.  Fast forward to 7th period, the last class of the day.  The halls are flooded with students making their way to the gym for a pep rally.  I step into the hallway and nearly run into you, the student who has lied to me about leaving early.  Very unfortunate.  When confronted, you tell another lie – “I left and then came back.”  Your friends laugh.  You have been caught.

Tina Fey will need to dig deep in order to cast this award-winning dramedy of my life and career.

In the midst of all of these funny-yet-sad stories, I would be remiss if I did not draw your attention to this editorial written by our school board’s chairman and published in today’s paper.  If the tales of my students provide some comedy, his thoughts certainly provide the drama to balance it out.  Above all, it is a reminder of the remarkable things teachers everywhere do with less-than-remarkable resources.  Instead of folding under pressure, financial and otherwise, I hope we can all rise to the challenge and use this as an opportunity to reshape the way public schooling is done.


When Tina Fey creates a television show based on my life and career as a teacher, I think a sub-plot should revolve around substitute teachers.   I have the utmost respect for these individuals.  They are called in, mostly at the very last minute, to conduct an unruly class of teenagers that the regular teacher is barely able to contain.  Below are my favorite tales of substitute teachers:

1.  Donald Driver:  Last year several of my 9th grade students came into class one day very proud.  They were so talkative that I had no choice but to get involved.  Fortunately for me, they decided to brief me on the following events.  A student, we’ll call him “Matt”, was acting particularly difficult for a sub the day before.  When she decided to write him up and send him out of class, she asked for his name.  Without hesitation, he told her “Donald Driver”.  Unless you are an avid NFL fan, or from Greenbay, you may not be aware that Donald Driver is a player for the Greenbay Packers.  The sub did not know this either.  To this day, Donald Driver has a discipline record at our school.

2.  Windows:  It is often necessary to monitor the progress (and safety) of subs in surrounding classrooms.  One day when I heard quite a roar of laughter and yelling coming from my absent colleague’s classroom, I stepped in to see if there was anything I could do.  When I walked in, I saw something that resembled a crime scene.  A desk with work on it, a book bag, a sub on the phone, and an open window.  What I learned was that one student refused to wait to use the restroom…so she crawled out the window.  Luckily we are on the 1st floor.

3.  There was a time last school year when our new building was still under construction, so many teachers shared classrooms.  This meant that during my planning period, there was another teacher holding class in my room.  It was inconvenient, but it worked.  On days when that teacher had a sub, I tried to find another place to do my planning.  It was just awkward.  One day I had to step back into the classroom for some papers.  Imagine my surprise when I found 20 teenagers and no teacher.  So I waited a few minutes, but no one came.  Finally I asked one of the students if they had a teacher, and he said “Yes, she went to get a magazine.”  (He was Latino, so read that with a Spanish accent)  I called the office to let them know what was going on, and it wasn’t until twenty minutes later that the sub returned.  Thinking that I had just walked in, she had the audacity to lie and say that she “just stepped out to the restroom.”  I wish I could say that she doesn’t sub for us anymore…

did you know: history according to my students

I love hearing the conclusions drawn by my students about historical events, mostly because there is often an element of truth in their otherwise naive comments.  About once a week I set my desks up in a square for Socratic seminars.  Today was our seminar about the Middle Ages, and it provided some priceless historical narrative.  My favorite comments are below:

“We could never have another epidemic like the Black Death; we have lots of medicine and shit…stuff.”

“The Jews started the Crusades because they killed Jesus.”

“No one really won the Crusades because everyone still has a different religion today.”

“Feudalism began with Charlemagne, when he converted to Christianity.  Well, he became Roman Catholic, whatever they are.”