“Dear Mr. Coward, I just checked Einstein’s grade…”

Posted on September 14, 2017
Filed Under grades, parents, Seventh Grade Behavior | Leave a Comment

I was an early advocate for posting grades online. In fact, our site was the first school in the district to have a majority of the teachers posting grades and homework online, thank you very much. We were several years ahead of even the high school. I remember parents who were used to having easy access to that info, getting crabby when their kids hit the high school, and almost nobody on the staff had any web presence.

The gradebook program (another trailblazing effort at our site) our staff used in those days allowed for several ways to post the data online. One of the ways would display the whole class in one screen with six columns: student ID number, points earned/points possible, total percentage, letter grade, rank in class, number of zeros.

This is the way we rolled at our site. It was just enough information for everybody to stay informed without micromanaging. At Back to School Nights, I would tell parents,

“Your focus should be on the last column: number of zeros. We want that number to be ZERO. If it is, the rest should take care of itself. If that number is greater than zero, your student’s first step is to see me to find out what it is and if it can be made up. If your student has zero zeros AND the letter grade is still low, THEN we have something we need to talk about.”

I also liked the “rank in class” feature. There used to be sooooo much jockeying for position and trash-talking and… ummm… trying. It was a lot of fun to watch.

The downside was that many of the kids treated their grade like it was on the stock market:

“I’m up 3.5%! Yay!”

“Why did that happen?”

“I don’t know… but yay!”

But now my grade book is live on the net as soon as I hit the Save button. And the stupid software automatically puts a letter grade for every assignment, no matter how small. And I have no control over how it displays the information.

So now I get this:

“I see Baby Mozart has been getting B+’s on her Friday tests. What can we do about this?”

“Umm… she has a 97% in the class overall. I think she’s doing ok. The tests are only part of the class and grade.”

“We don’t accept B’s in this family. Also she got an F on that quiz on Wednesday. How can she make that up?”

“That was 5 points. She got 2. We will have more than 1000 points possible in the quarter alone. She still has a 97% in the class.”

“We certainly don’t accept F’s in this family. How can she make that up?”

And even worse, the kids STILL don’t take advantage of the information. Yesterday I got an e-mail from a kid with like five missing assignments out of about twenty. (The e-mail has been edited for spelling and clarity.)

“Mr. Coward, I just looked at my grade, and it is really low. I am confused about why it’s so low because I’m really trying hard. What can I do to get my grade up? Hope you are having a great day.”


500th Post! And a Couple of Firsts.

Posted on September 6, 2017
Filed Under Seventh Grade Behavior, Teaching | Leave a Comment

Waitaminnit! I just went and looked, and the first posts on this here blog were all the way back in 2008. Nine years?! 500 posts?!

Ok, some are reruns (mebbe 10-15%), but still… 270,000+ words!

But enough looking backward… Although today’s post does have a bunch of links to some old classics from over the years.

One of the great things about this job is the fact that even though on the surface, it looks like the same same all the time, there is always SOMETHING new/different/what the…? Even after 25 years at the same school…

This year already has a couple of examples.

Earliest detention-giving ever. Usually on the first day of school, they sit and stare at me like I’m speaking Mandarin Chinese to their dog. They are all scared to death of me and my stick (more on that in a minute) and half of them still can’t open their lockers, and they freeze up when I ask how to pronounce their names. But this year… I had a kid in the FIRST PERIOD OF THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL who obviously didn’t read the memo about how this place works. (Hint: It’s not a democracy.)  This one needed a few rides around the arena, so to speak, and he still wasn’t getting it; he thought this was his show, not mine. When I told him to stay in at break for detention… well obviously he wasn’t used to that. Hmmm. A little personal heart to heart, and we’re BFFs now. Most of the time.

Earliest You’re-So-Scary. Only one week in, I get an e-mail from my AP with the header, “Be You…but.” First of all, what’s that mean? But? But what? Don’t be you? Be not so much you? Be you, but pretend not to? Then I read this: “Got a kiddo that is scared. .. Fear/anxiety is a great motivator, but I want you to be sure that the kiddos feel, and say, that their teacher is caring and sensitive too.”

First of all, I love the part about public relations: “and say.” What the kids say is just as important as what they feel. Hmmm, Interesting. Secondly, hahahahahahahahahahaha. Caring and sensitive? Has he met me? Third, back in the day in teacher school, “raising thier level of anxiety” was a supposedly proven technique. Fourth, he must have forgotten that it is all part of the shtick. I even warn parents of that at Back to School Night, saying that the first six weeks are like boot camp, and I am the Drill Instructor. But by the sixth week or sooner, they will think this class is the best thing since Sponge Bob.

Sho’ ’nuff, by the end of the week, the “kiddo” was saying this was one of her fave classes, and that Mr. Coward is funny.

Luckily, looks aren’t everything.


OMG! Twenty Five Years! Plus Ca Change…

Posted on August 20, 2017
Filed Under First Day | 1 Comment

Tomorrow begins my 25th year at Laguna Middle School. It was Laguna Junior High when I started. That ain’t the only thing that’s changed around here.

We used to have the oldest staff in the district. Now it’s all young uns and noobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. In fact, yours truly excepted, we are a much less crabby staff than when I started. So much enthusiasm and noobness! It brings a tear to the eye of this jaded old veteran. Seven new staff this year, and everybody is just so excited!

I fought upper management for years just to get teacher web pages and access to a (relatively) unfiltered internet. Now we take it for granted that the kids all have Chromebooks, teachers all have a web presence of some kind and everybody and his mom has a new educational app they want to foist on you. Our head of curriculum and instruction wouldn’t have a clue what to do without the internet.

Clickers are now old school.

If I hear the word data one more time I will lose it.

As recently as eight years ago, we had five sections of band, five sections of choir, and five sections of drama. We now have two sections of band, one section of choir, and fewer than 20 kids per quarter taking drama on the elective wheel.

I am on my sixth principal here. A good year this year, and he would move to #1 in the rankings. He has finally learned that food at meetings is essential. Plus, he is just so “up” all the time. I am impressed. It really is “all good.”

On a sad note, one of our fave veterans, Mrs. G, died a week after school got out. She had been teaching at our district for 51 years and at our school for 45.


But as the French saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” ANd nowhere is that more true than junior high… excuse me, middle school.

Despite the name change, we are still 7th/8th  grade only, and always will be. NO sixth graders here in the foreseeable future.

Despite the age change, the vibe around here is still very Disneyland. Everybody just looooves it here.

The kids are the same. Rambunctious, hilarious, frustrating puppies who just want an alpha to show them the way.

This first day is shaping up to be a bit different though. We will have over 100 more kids than we did last year. The eclipse will be occurring right while we are taking 7th graders on a tour of the school…

“Don’t look up at the sun, use the glasses or the…”

“Woah! That’s cool… and it don’t hurt at all to look up!”


Also the main road into the school will have several lanes closed for construction tomorrow.

Just another first day.

PS: I started noobing around on Instagram this summer. Check out what I did on my summer vacation: @mrcinslo.






The Wall of Shame Revisted

Posted on March 15, 2017
Filed Under Spelling | 1 Comment

Just over a year ago, I posted about a new feature of my classroom: The Spelling Wall of Shame. Presided over by my wicker mermaid and a tiki head, and featuring the giant OMG eraser, it has become sort of a tourist attraction. My kids bring their friends in before school and challenge them to translate. They all say, “No way!”

“I’ll bet if I looked through your notebook/binder right now, I could probably find a few candidates.”

My crims always start chanting, “Do it, do it, do it!” Or volunteering their own for perusal. They think it’s an honer (sic). Wait, isn’t that a harmonica?

Every year during the summer, the custodians always wipe and clean the white boards in all the classrooms. When I got back this last fall though, the Wall was still up. The night guy confessed that they all loved it so much, they couldn’t bear to get rid of it.

As you can see, since last we visited, I’ve had to add another whole column. And the second column has somehow surpassed the first in its beauty and “inventiveness.”

Aren’t they supposed to have given up “invented spelling” by now?

All right then. Let’s see how you do. I am going to go watch Survivor and Modern Family, and you try to translate the second column. I am especially interested to see how you do on numbers 6, 7, 8, and 12. I will be back soon with the answers. Whoever can get them all wins a *free oven mitt!





*Not really.

(2014) Jonas = Harry Potter?

Posted on March 9, 2017
Filed Under Rerun, The Giver | 1 Comment

The following rerun was supposed to be posted last night while I was watching the season premiere of Survivor.

As you can probably tell from the title, we are reading The Giver right now. And they are digging it. You know how it goes with this one:

“This is weird.”

Yes. It is. I told you it would be.

“What do they do all day?”

Work. Go to school. Eat. Etc. Talk about feelings. Haha.

“But there’s no shoooooopping!”

But even the ones who have read it…

(Aside: I HATE THAT. When some stoopid elementary teacher thinks that their kids “can handle that book now” or “I have a great unit on that” and blithely hijacks your book. Sorry…but one year I even had a kid who had read Outsiders in 6th grade and the teacher had used all my shtuff for the unit. “I already did all that!” AAAAARGH!)

…are still asking all kinds of questions during the daily Q/A that I have before the quiz on the night’s reading. Most of the questions are the same as the ones I get every year. See if you can guess the questions from the answers I gave:

“I don’t know exactly. I guess it’s probably something like they use for cattle and horses. Sort of like a turkey baster.” (This year we had to surf to Amazon to show a significant percentage of the class what a turkey baster is.)

“You probably should have ‘that talk’ with your dad.”

“You learned about that in the genetics unit in science. They probably just turned off that set of genes.”

“That one is answered in the book.”

“Ummm. Probably bulldozers and dynamite.”

“Chapter 19.”

But there is one question I always answer with a question: “How does the Giver transfer the memories to Jonas by touching his back?”

My answer is always: “How does Harry Potter fly around on a broom?”

And there is always a chorus of response to that: “MAGIC!”


So we talked about “suspension of disbelief” and how we just have to accept that’s how things work in this world. One class was still having trouble with it though. They kept wondering why everyone couldn’t be trained to do what Jonas is doing. Now I have never read any Harry Potter nor seen the movies. (Except for about 10 minutes of one. It had some annoying little pale thing with a really grating voice.) My boy went through that phase a few years ago (Team LOTR now), so that’s my only real exposure. I do know what a muggle is though. Sudden inspiration.

“Well Jonas and the Giver are sort of like Harry and Dumbledork. (Break for outrage and laughter.) And the rest of the community is all muggles.” (Is that word supposed to be capitalized?)

“Ooooh! I get it! (pause) But what about Gabriel? Is he a wizard? He has the pale eyes!”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

“You May Lie” (as Always)

Posted on March 6, 2017
Filed Under The Giver | Leave a Comment

We’re reading The Giver right now. Most years this is the first book I make them read mostly at home. After reading The Outsiders and The Midwife’s Apprentice and Maus almost entirely out loud in class and demoing to them how to do this, I usually cut them loose on The Giver and go old school: two chapters a day @ home, response in the notebook to process, quiz the next day to see if they actually did the reading, discussion to get them to understand it and bring along the kids who didn’t read. This is where we see if they can step up and do what they’ve been taught.

Yeah. Good luck with that. It took us the first 25 weeks to get all of them to be able to get the point of view (1st, 2nd, 3rd person) of all our books correct. Really, 25 weeks. I ask it on almost every weekly test: “(Whatever we are in the middle of reading that week) is written in…  a) 1st person  b) 2nd person  c) 3rd person  d) 4th person.

It took the first eight weeks before there was finally nobody picking 4th person.


Anyway. We’re about eight or ten chapters in, and I am realizing that we are going to have to read a lot more in class this time. A lot.

Every year though,  I still try to make sure I read out loud specific parts which I know will make them squirm (“The Stirrings!”), or flip out (Dad releasing the smaller twin: “Bye bye, little guy!“), or say stupid stuff, so I can call them on it.

Today we read the part where Jonas gets his one page of instructions. This is one of those say stupid stuff parts.

One of the rules is that he is allowed to be rude and ask personal questions of anybody. They all go, “Yay rude!”

Aside: One of the features of this class is the “Off-Topic Question time. Those few instances when I have time left at the end of a period, or when a class or two is ahead on a book we’re reading in class, and I don’t want them to get too out of sync, we do OTQ’s. I let them AMA (ask me anything). I don’t always answer, but usually I do. But they are sooooooo uncreative with their questions, it physically pains me: What’s your favorite color? Really? What animal would you be? Gawd. Are you kidding me?

“How is that any different than you guys are now? He’s just legit now. Unlike you, it’s part of his job. He gets Off-Topic Questions whenever he wants!”


And they all LOVE the last rule, “You may lie.”

“Hmmm. Remind me never to trust you guys ever again. Again, how is this different from usual for you guys?”

They all laugh, but it is also kinda sad that my most enthusiastic volunteering for parts when we read Maus is when I say we need somebody to play one of the Nazis.

And then every Nazi seems to end up having a Southern Alabama or British accent.

keep looking »