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The Wheel Has Already Been Invented (Rerun. Because I’ve Earned It.)

August 20, 2014
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Back in the day, before I started teaching, I worked for many years at the Ernie Ball Company. I made guitar strings on piecework, I made volume pedals, I worked in the woodshop and helped make electric guitars and basses. When I was in the woodshop, Ernie (his real name was Roland, and his grandson, who was in my 7th grade class now runs the company) would come through and watch us work. His favorite expression was, “The wheel has already been invented.” He hated wasted motion or time. “Can’t that cart have wheels so it can moved over there when it needs to be?” Or, “Why do you keep walking over there over and over instead of…?” (He also hated lateness and what he called “Monday sickers.” Pity the fool that was late on a Monday.) So. This here blog started back in August of 2008. So there’s a pretty good chance that I already covered “beginning of the year shtuff.” So I checked. Yup. Sho’ nuff. Here’s one from fall of 2010: OK. This time for real. Daily, baby. Well maybe… It seems like I wait longer and longer each year to get ready for school. We started

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Another Legacy (What Am I Going to Do – Part II)

August 14, 2014
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Ok so… Now (in the story, not literally) it’s a couple of weeks into the summer this year, and we are interviewing for a new full-time English teacher to replace a vet who bolted to Colorado in February and got married to her long-lost childhood sweetheart. Now (as a sentence starter, not as a statement of time) full-time English positions are as rare here as they were in the district I spoke of in the previous post. Rarer. I think the last one was almost 15 years ago.  This is a big deal and we need someone who kicks booty. We are probably going to have to live with them for a long time. We had five interviews that day. We liked Number One a lot. The rest had a tough act to follow. By the time we got to Number Five, all the doodles and talk balloons on my interview sheets indicated that Number One was going to be the one. Colleen and I were on the same page on this. Number Five was fresh. This would be his first full-time gig if he were to get it. We hadn’t seen fresh in awhile. Number Five liked junior high. My inner

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What Am I Going to Do Now?! (Part I)

August 6, 2014
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(Let’s all just pretend that I have been here this whole time…again.) Twenty-one years ago almost exactly, I was a “young” buck, finished with my first full year of full-time high school teaching. I had worked for that district for two years–my first year I “taught” what they call Independent Study–and there was an unwritten law there that they didn’t ever offer permanent positions. To anyone. Ever. So even after two good years working in the district, I was still on unemployment for the summer because I was technically fired. Again. But then… That high school had just been awarded a federal grant of a million dollars (remember, this is 1993, so that’s big money) to rework their curriculum and schedule and staff from top to bottom. And part of that involved sending a core group of teachers to Lake Tahoe for a week of intense “thematic unit” (remember those days?) training. And they needed one more English teacher to complete the team. I told them I was a fired temp and that it didn’t really make sense for them to spend all that money training me if they were just going to fire me again. I knew it was a multi-year

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Ooooh, He’s Hawt!

February 13, 2014
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Ooooh, He’s Hawt!

I know I am probably behind the curve on this one, but since we just finished The Giver, it was big news for my classes and me. The long-awaited movie version will actually be a reality. August 15th is the date it is scheduled to hit a theater near you. Jeff Bridges, who was the one who bought the movie rights 20 years ago and has been trying to get it made ever since, will play The Giver. The good news is that Lois Lowry is on board, and has approved of the changes to the story: Jonas will be 16 instead of 12, and his crush on Fiona will be more of a lovey-dovey thing as required by modern movie making standards. The Chief Elder, who will be played by Meryl Streep, will have a bigger role in the story, probably to justify having Meryl Streep in the movie. (The kids said, “Who’s that?”) Another character  who looks like she’s going to have a larger role in the story is The Giver’s daughter, Rosemary. How do we know? She’s played by Taylor Swift. Half of them screamed in delight at the news, half of them groaned. I comforted those with

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Jonas = Harry Potter?

February 5, 2014
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You thought I was dun fer, as ol’ Huck might have said. But as the late, lamented Mrs. Krabapple used to say, HA!  To paraphrase Sir Mixalot… Baby, I’m back. 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

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Maybe Someone Will Listen to the Rocket Scientist (Nah.)

December 18, 2013
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One of my standard lines when the kids are being particularly thick-headed about something that we’ve already covered about fitty times is, “It ain’t rocket science people.” Turns out it is. At least for me. Check this headline: Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder. And the best part is that it’s written by an actual rocket scientist. He quit working for NASA to join TFA and is now teaching math and robotics in Colorado Springs. I won’t summarize the piece too much, because I want you to read it, but the part of it that told me that he actually understands what it takes to be a teacher was this (emphasis mine): One of the biggest misconceptions about teaching is that it is a single job. Teaching is actually two jobs. The first job is the one that teachers are familiar with; people who have not taught can pretend it doesn’t exist. The tasks involved in this first job include lesson planning, grading, calling parents, writing emails, filling out paperwork, going to meetings, attending training, tutoring, and occasionally sponsoring a club or coaching a sport. The time allotted to teachers for this work is usually one hour per workday. But

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Were There Also Yessies?

December 10, 2013
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We have a new candidate for greatest misspelling ever. And the sweet irony of it is that it surfaced during a spelling test. Plus, I think I came up with a new catch phrase (for that class anyway). I have them reading non-fiction for their independent KBAR book. That’s sort of one of the “big” changes coming with the advent of the Common Corporate. There is supposed to be more of an emphasis on non-fiction and “useful” reading. Oh, did I give away a bias there? So sorry. We’ll get back to that another time. Anyway, a lad in my one class mostly filled with “challenging” lads such as himself… (Wait. Why are classes like this almost always at the end of the day?) …is reading a book about WWII. I am standing there reading his response for the week while they work on their Friday test, when I come across the word for Hitler’s fascist party. Now we get to the part I don’t understand. He’s reading a book about WWII and yet he can’t seem to spell the most basic four-letter word from that era. Picture in your mind what the phonetic spelling might look like, but still

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Is That Good? Or Bad?

December 9, 2013
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Where have you guys been? What? I’ve been here the whole time. What are you talking about? I’ve been a little distracted lately; the weather has been soooo good. Sorry to make you people who live in other places besides Paradise jealous, but it was 82 degrees on December 1st. I skated the empty streets on Thanksgiving day. In shorts. So much to share. I’ve missed circle time for a while. So I may will string this out over a couple several more posts to sort of, you know, make up the slack… I’ve had to miss a bunch of days (for me) this year. I can remember when I went a year or two without a sub. (I always have been a weasel when it comes to “professional development” days.) But this year, I have already had a sub–sorry, they’re called guest teachers hereabouts–at least four times that I can think of off the top of my head. As my long-suffering reader(s) may recall, the first line in my sub plan always says, “…the kids should be good, and have fun, but don’t be afraid to kick ass and take names on the seating chart.” I also tell the GT to

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I Just Remembered the Name of This Blog (Also: Vegas)

November 13, 2013
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I have a real excuse this time for the latest posting drought. I took myself to Vegas for four days for my birthday. Yup, just me. All by my own bad self. I know it sounds sort of weird, but I love Vegas. I got married in Vegas. On Halloween. Yes, it was at one of those chapels they use to have so many of back in the day. Our “limo” driver gave us a drive-by of Jerry Lewis’s compound, all the while talking about how his ex-wife was trying to kill him. Jerry had a fat guy in a lawn chair sitting out in front of the gate with a plastic pumpkin of candy and a ciggie in his mouth. The couple in front of us at the Silver Bell Wedding Chapel didn’t have a ring for the bride so the best man, with a seriously bad rug, splayed out his fingers displaying a huge rock on every finger said, “Pick one.” It was fun, but 22 years later the wife is kinda done with Vegas. So I went alone. It was MY birthday after all. I played a lot of pinball at the Pinball Hall of Fame,  played

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Feed Me, or I’ll Stop Doing What Little Thinking I’m Doing About What You Have to Say

November 4, 2013
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Feed Me, or I’ll Stop Doing What Little Thinking I’m Doing About What You Have to Say

My long-suffering, long-time readers know how I feel about the necessity of having (good) snacks at ANY function where you expect the faculty to function. The way I see it,  food at things like teacher trainings (didn’t they used to be called in-services?) and faculty meetings and management team meetings and basically any sort of teacher-type meeting serves three important purposes: 1. It gets people talking. So-called PLCs-professional learning communities–are all the rage these days. All it really means is giving teachers enough time and incentive to sit around and talk about teaching and lesson ideas and the kids they have in common and what to do to help them. I had a principal about 10 years ago who had been a home ec teacher. She was also the best principal I’ve had, and not just because she fed us well. But feed us she did. During the holidays, it wasn’t unusual for her to show up for a faculty meeting with a roast and pie! Mmmmm, pie. Anyway, every one of those meetings was a buzz of talking… and not just about the food. It was about kids and lessons and everything else about teaching and our school. Eating

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Professor Picanumba

October 21, 2013
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Professor Picanumba

Every Friday is test day. And like everything in my class, there’s a routine. First: They record their warm up scores, squiggles on handouts, and extra credit for the week in a form at the top of the test. Like this: Test 8. Name:                                                                       Date:                        Period: Sentence Combining:___/10   Spelling Crossword: ___/10 Warm Ups: 10/15:____/8,  10/16:___/7,  10/17: ___/10 Non-Clicker Extra Credit: Mental Floss:   The warm ups  (and everything else we do in class) are all in their notebooks so they can, God forbid, study for the test, since I basically just copy and paste them into the test. This is how they get into the gradebook. And of course there are always the gluey ones who, no matter how many times we’ve gone through the procedure, mange to leave everything blank. My slave student assistant, who enters most of the numbers, is trained to enter zero if anything is left blank. I get a lot of e-mails until the kids start to get that I mean it when I tell them that. I circulate and watch them fill in the paperwork and spot check when I’m feeling suspicious, but they are mostly all very honest. The

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Eight Things

October 10, 2013
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Eight Things

I am lagging in so many areas lately, so don’t take it personally that this blog is one of them. Here’s the latest… 1. I had been thinking that this year’s crew was too nice and gentle and friendly to offer much comedy relief/material, but I was wrong. They are still seventh graders after all. The other day I was berating a kid who was trying out random answers to a warm up question. After he tries out a third non-sequitur on his partner, I can’t cope. I ask him if he needs some help with the question. His response? “Oh. I guess I should read it.” 2. The first question on the vocabulary pretest this week was, “Many rappers “sing” the praises of “bling” and _____ consumption.” The word we were looking for was conspicuous. I gave them a visual hint with a picture of a diamond encrusted, 1.27 million dollah cell phone, asking why anyone would want such an item. Half of them spent the next five minutes jabbering about how it looked like a banana. One Latino kid was very quietly reading the question over and over and finally raised his hand, rather concerned. “Umm. About the

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Near As I Can Figure, TFA Sucks

September 23, 2013
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Today, some geniuses in one class were doing the old “what if I” game with me, trying to dream up scenarios where they might be able to circumvent the rules/regulations in my class. “What if I had my friend… What if my mom…” and etc. God forbid they were surprised to find that I not only predicted most of their excuses and work-arounds, but that I had a few they hadn’t even thought of. As I tell them every year, “Remember I was in seventh grade once too, you know. And I was still me, even then. Anything you can even imagine doing around here, I’ve already been whacked with a ruler for. Or yelled at by my principal for. So don’t even go there.” What goes unsaid, but should be understood by those outside the profession, is that it also takes a lot of experience. Only those of us who have been doing it awhile have the radar tuned to the junior high frequency. Even though I could probably recall all my tricks from seventh grade when I started teaching, I wasn’t able to CALL upon them. Only after seeing the patterns of students’ behaviors over the years was

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Random Featured Post

“How cute. Like hobos…” (Also: Hank Williams.)

Wednesday. Vocabulary Pretest. Talk of facades and irony. Both figure large in The Outsiders. More on that later. Today I have more insight from my friendly class. We’re reading chapter 4 (the death of Bob, Dally helping with the getaway, jumping the train out of town), and we get to where Dally is telling Pony and Johnny to “hop the 3:15 freight to Windrixville.” We pause and talk about how it’s only been less than 36 hours (book time) since the beginning. They find it hard to believe until we start to do the timeline. Figure that Pony gets out of the movie in the late afternoon, and gets jumped and saved. Pony and Johnny and Dally go to the Nightly Double the next night, and it’s now 3:15am that same night. Then I make sure they know that a freight is a train. And one girl says, “How cute. Like hobos…” Hobos maybe. Cute? Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used to Do? When the boys run to find Dally at Buck Merrill’s house, Pony offers a brief description of Buck that ends with, “…he was out of it. He dug Hank Williams. How gross can you get?” […]

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Mr. Coward has been teaching on the beautiful central coast of California since 1989. He sometimes tweets when he's in the right mood: @mrCinSLO.

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