Sunday, May 23, 2010

Four More Weeks

This past week at school was not a good one.  I came close to walking out in despair on Thursday.  My students were taking a high stakes test (on computer).  As teachers we've been told that 60% of our students must meet their computer-set growth targets, or we will be placed on a "professional growth plan."  Only 59% of my students achieved their targets.  I have worked VERY hard this year to teach them the skills they are supposed to learn.  Some of the 59% not only achieved their goals, but far exceeded them --- 27, 25, 22, 18, 15, 10 points above their targets.  80% of my students achieved growth --- just not the right amount of growth.  Of the students who didn't make their targets:  One student's parents split up the day before the test.  Another student hasn't done any work all year despite all my interventions.   Three students rushed through the 60 minute test in under 20 minutes and refused to re-take it.  And of course, I am to blame for their failures to reach their targets. This is what is wrong with high stakes testing.  The accountability is ENTIRELY on the teacher.  There is no accountability for students or parents.

With that off my chest, there are four more very long weeks ahead of us.  This week promises to be a very hot one so we will be very uncomfortable in our sun-filled rooms.   Trying to keep 12 and 13 year-olds focused when it's hot will be that much more difficult.  I am trying to be proactive.  I have several fun (hopefully!) hands-on activities planned involving building ramps, racing Matchbox cars, colliding marbles, and lifting objects with helium filled balloons.  I have some videos planned that tie quite nicely with our science curriculum.  We're reading novels that students have chosen themselves, and they will be creating some skits, games, and other physical presentations around their novels.    In short, I am trying to be accountable to the curriculum when most of my students have decided school is over with.  The last few weeks are always difficult, but we've had a very early spring and now some too-early summery weather.  They are done.  I'm just about done too!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book #39

a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px">The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I could not put this book down!  Kathryn Stockett's portrayals of Abileen, Minnie, and Skeeter were so vivid and realistic, I felt I was listening to each of them speaking personally to me.  I have no idea of how close to reality the fictional experiences of these women are, it felt very true.  I have lived always in the north, and until only very recently, I have never had any household help. (We've just recently found someone to come in occasionally to help with cleaning.)  What came through for me loud and clear, however, was the universality of all women's fears, concerns, wants, and needs.

View all my reviews >>

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Biography This Time!

Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone by James Brady

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I picked up this book at the library because I've been watching The Pacific on HBO.  I was interested in finding out more John Basilone, one of the Marines about whom the Tom Hanks' series is centered.
I found the book confusing to read.  The author jumped around in the timeline, and I wasn't always clear as to who he was quoting.  I felt that the author's main purpose of the book was to sift through a lot of conflicting information about John Basilone rather than to tell his story.   Some things I did take away from the book:   John Basilone was a skilled soldier and Marine; he fought heroically, and died heroically.  The details are confusing which seems to make sense to me.  Although I have never been in battle, I can't imagine it to be anything other than horrible and confusing.  I also believe that his other biographers told his story as they believed it to have happened, out of love and admiration, not out of any other motive.  Since Basilone apparently never wrote about his experiences, and since all of his personal narrative was part of the War Bonds tour (with government oversight!), there is little primary source.  What I found fascinating is that I lived in Bridgewater Township, NJ during from 1963-1970, and I attended Bridgewater-Raritan High School (West).  Raritan was "next door". We visited Duke Island Park often, shopped at the Acme on the Somerville Circle, and I was familiar with many of the Raritan locations mentioned in the book.   I never heard of John Basilone.    Weird.

View all my reviews >>

Random Rantings and Ramblings

I haven't had much to say lately -- or maybe it's just that I haven't had time to say anything.  As the school year rushes to the end (only 24 more days) the pressures at work have mounted up.  Last Tuesday we were asked to start and complete 2 huge tasks by May 21 on top of having our progress reports ready for May 18.  These tasks are/were curriculum maps for all the subjects we teach, and transition sheets for all our our students.  We have never done formal transition sheets for our kids who are moving on to 7th grade before.  We've just done quick thumbnails, and placement recommendations that are almost always ignored.  The good thing is that we are being asked to be more detailed; the downside is the quick turnaround, and our fear that are recommendations will still be ignored.  The curriculum maps aren't really as difficult as they first sounded. It was more trying to understand the template.  It was disheartening too because we've done a lot of maps over the past few years and we keep having to do them again.  Wouldn't it make more sense to have an administrator look at the maps we've done previously and ask us to revise them if necessary instead of reinventing the wheel each time the administrator changes??  I've had some other professional obligation deadlines looming too.  The "local education association" for which I'm treasurer has its annual meeting this coming week so I've been up to my eyeballs in financial reports and budgets.  I'm also co-in-charge of the team that checks that all teaching staff are up-to-date with recertification requirements and we "okay" staff for recertification.  That's always an intense chore because teachers are the worst direction-followers!!  A few folks every year (usually the same people!) leave everything to the last minute and come panicked to my room after school asking how they can get enough credit to be recertified.  This despite the fact that we start in September with reminding those who are due for recertification!!!  ARRGGH!

We have an old porch set - 4 chairs, a chaise, and a dining table - that is about 25 years old.  It cost about $450.    It's never been super comfortable, but it's served us adequately.  We decided that this year we would replace it.  We've been to 4 different places however, to no avail.  We found a very comfortable set at Sears, on sale, reasonably priced. It had 2 chairs, a loveseat, and a small round coffee table.The price was under $700 but we didn't like the cushion colors (and there was no other choice) and the round table just doesn't work for our space.  So we went to Home Depot and to Lowes.  Nothing there that we liked.  Someone recommended we try a store called the Seasonal Store.  We went yesterday and loved the furniture.  But . . . the prices were ridiculous.  The set we liked and that would work for us was $2800. ON SALE!!  For 2 chairs, and a love seat.  The coffee table was extra.  Other sets were in excess of $3000.  We walked out.   I could possibly see spending that much if I lived somewhere like southern California where I'd have an outdoor room that I used all year.  But for a screen porch that I can use maybe 2.5 months of the year?????  Even if  it lasted 25 years, that's more money than I can afford.  The salesman told us that they sold a lot of the set we were interested in.  I don't know to whom.  If he's telling the truth, then how come nobody can afford their property taxes?  How  come no teachers in our state got a raise this year?  How come state and town budgets are being slashed to the bone?  I don't get it.

I did read!  Here's the latest.

Dreaming of the Bones (Kincaid/James, #5) Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This series just keeps getting better and better! Duncan Kincaid gets a call from his ex-wife Vic McClennan who has been writing a biography of Lydia Brooks, a poet who ostensibly committed suicide.  Vic believes instead that Lydia was murdered.  When another unexpected sudden death occurs, Duncan and Gemma James decide that perhaps Vic is right.  Both Kincaid and James have their lives turned upside down as a result of the investigation. Aside from the engrossing novel, I learned a lot about another famous poet, Rupert Brooks,too.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weather-Related Weirdness and More . . . .Books.

Last week we had snow, freezing temperatures, and winter.  Today it was over 85°F with high humidity -- a steamy sort of July-ish day.  I hate the hot, humid stuff.  I can't stand the stickiness of things: clothes that stick, hair that sticks, the contact between skin and desk.  I couldn't stand the lanyard around my neck today at school either, so I wound up taking it off,  and now the key to my classroom is on my desk locked in my room.  I'll have to find the custodian tomorrow to unlock it for me!  It's only early May and already my daffodils and PGM rhodies are gone, the apple and pear blossoms, and forsythia are gone.  I realize for you more southerly readers your spring blooms are long gone.  Usually these items peak around the 2nd week of May up here in the northern part of New England.  So it's definitely an odd sort of spring.

Catching up on some book reviews:

Last Act in Palmyra (Marcus Didius Falco, #6) Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is book #6 in the Marcus Didius Falco series, and while I did enjoy it, I didn't like it as much as the earlier book.  It got "draggy" and I never got invested in the 2 mysteries he was trying to solve.  I felt like the characters weren't that much interested either.  With that being said, I love the attention to detail that Lindsey Davis puts into her writing.  It's clear she has done a great deal of scholarly research to paint a realistic picture of life in the first century Roman empire.  I also love her wit!

View all my reviews >>

And once again, Precious Ramotswe never fails to ease my stress!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Be content with who you are and where you are, and do whatever you can do to bring to others such contentment, and joy, and understanding that you have managed to find yourself."  Armed with this advice from her father, and her red bush tea, Mma Ramotswe again brings order and peace to her corner of Botswana.  In this installment, Mma Makutsi's fiance has suffered a horrible accident and has been "kidnapped" by his aunt who is determined to keep Grace away from her nephew.  Mma Ramotswe has been asked by a lawyer in the US to locate a safari guide who is about to receive a legacy.  Violet Sephotho has engineered a swindle, and a friend wants proof that her husband is having an affair.  If more people lived by Mma Ramotswe's philosophy and her late father's advice, what a kinder, gentler place this world would be.