Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Holiday Break

I have had great trouble making the time to write.  I am only writing now to “workcrastinate.”  I should be grading essays, but writing is more fun than grading.  Go figure.

I had to make time to share a question a student had for our class last week: “Is Thanksgiving break and Christmas break at the same time this year?”

I was proud of myself for not responding in a sarcastic manner, which is one of my goals this year.  Then, I realized, the student was not asking that strange of a question.  She may be very in tune with a politician’s work schedule.

I can see her getting elected one day.

As for me, I am thankful that this Thanksgiving I will have the opportunity to grade many essays.


Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Humor, Lessons from students, Writing

Attack of the Shrimp – Having Fun with Narratives

I have taught the personal narrative and narrative for twenty-six years, and I have used this model story for about twenty years.  This is one of the weeks the students will be working on story telling.  We will revisit this assignment and others like it, since revising is part of the writing process.  Of course, this is the seventh revision of my story. 

Both prompts I am using involve humor and food for three reasons.  First, I want the kids to be able to laugh at themselves a little, before anyone else can laugh at them.  We all make mistakes or have embarrassing moments.  Second, food allows the writer to create sensory details to appeal to smell and taste, as well as sight, sound, and touch.  Third, a similar prompt has appeared on previous super-secret tests; therefore, after 26 years, I seem to be teaching toward the test. 

 Since this blog is about the freshmen experience, it is only fitting that I share from my freshman year as a teacher. 

It was a cool October day during my first year of teaching.  After a long day of “learning them kids real good”, I arrived home a hungry, tired teacher.  I threw my briefcase on the couch of my one bedroom apartment, and I entered my closet-sized kitchen.  I was a man on a mission to fry some shrimp.

frying pan

frying pan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being a cheap guy first year teacher with a salary of $16,500, I did not own a fryer.  Instead, I used oil in a frying pan.  Did I mention I was hungry?  I decided to put the burner on high, and I put a lid on it.  After all, water boils faster with a lid on, right?

While that was heating up, I relaxed in my brown, beat-up-hand-me-down-duct-taped recliner and watched my favorite

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series.

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cartoon of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I also decided to read the evening newspaper.

Suddenly, I heard a metallic “pop,” like a fork hitting the floor.  I also saw a flash of light as if the paparazzi followed me home and began snapping pictures.  I hate when they do this. Immediately, I saw and smelled smoke.  Of course, I was also blasted out of my seat by the smoke alarm blaring its loud, obnoxious, panic-inducing “BEEEEP!!!”

A residential smoke detector is the most famil...

A residential smoke detector is the most familiar piece of nuclear technology for some people (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leapt out of my seat, threw the newspaper down, stepped on it, and ran into the kitchen.  The oil was on fire!!  The lid was hanging precariously on the edge with flames shooting five feet into the air.  I thought to myself, “Oh feces!”  I knew I had to act quickly; I was worried about the safety of my neighbors: 80 year-old women.  I began to imagine them falling down the three flights of stairs, bouncing off each other, their walkers, and the steps until reaching the bottom in a crumpled heap of bone, blood, and bodies.

My first action was to knock that panic-inducing smoke alarm off of the ceiling. I simply could not think with the incessant beeping in my ears.  Next, I decided to put the lid back on the pan to smother the fire.  However, I was going to have to reach over the flames to grab the lid.  Not wanting to get burned, I quickly thought of a backup plan: I would put the flaming pan and lid in the sink and douse the oil fire with water.  OK, I forgot that oil and water do not mix.  Luckily for me, I was a bachelor and always kept dirty dishes in the sink.  There just wasn’t room for the burning pan.

Standing at the sink holding a pan that had flames scorching the ceiling, I realized I needed to think a little faster.  Suddenly, a college flashback lit up in my mind.  Phil, a smoker across the hall, threw a lit cigarette into his trash can.  To extinguish it, he carried it into the shower and turned on the water.  Viola!  No more fire.  Yes, I was still forgetting oil and water do not mix.

As I turned the corner from the kitchen to the bathroom, a mere two feet, the coordination that prevents me from playing basketball or even walking and chewing gum at the same time, shined through.   I ran into the wall.  The lid fell to the ground.  Boiling oil landed on my hand and the carpet.  The carpet melted instantly.  My hand turned red and blistered simultaneously.  I exclaimed vulgarities that would have made my mother proud, which is probably why I was rewarded with a nasty, putrid, and worse than a two-day-old-dead-skunk-on-the-side-of-the-road stench, as the smell of my burnt flesh wafted into my nose.

I  jumped over the pan lid with the flames shooting three feet into the air, and I threw the pan, which still held some burning oil, into the bathtub.  I remember thinking to myself when I watched the flames swirl down the drain, “This looks like a volcano toilet!”  Then, I remembered the burning pan lid.  I jumped over the flames again and went to the kitchen sink to get some wet towels.  I wrapped one towel around my hand to try to ease the pain and keep the swelling down.  I used the other towel to grab the pan lid.  For some mysterious reason, I thought the best way to get rid of this burning lid was to walk across the newspaper, crinkle, crinkle, crunch, that was strewn across the living room floor and place it on my wooden balcony.

As I did this, the fire burnt itself out.  I left the balcony door open to allow the smoke and stench of burnt hand and melted carpet escape.  I also checked on my neighbors.  They had heard nothing.  Turns out they were all deaf.  A younger neighbor, about sixty-years-old, took me to the emergency room.  For a month after, I visited the doctor every other day in order to have the dead skin picked off and get a new bandage wrapped around my hand.

Since that fateful October day, I have placed a fire extinguisher under the sink, and I have learned how to use it!

"Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand ...

“Learn to use it NOW-Carbon Dioxide Hand Fire Extingusher” – NARA – 514853 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leave a comment

September 23, 2013 · 4:39 pm

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Ready to Teach

Thank Heaven last week is behind us.  We survived assessment testing and little instructional time.  This next week will feel more normal with a writing assignment and actual teaching.

Of course, last week also gave me a chuckle.  An Honors student looked at our text book and asked, “Is this just full of stories?”  In an effort to not be sarcastic, I answered, “It also has poems, essays, a play, and part of an epic.”  However, some of the things I wanted to say were:

– “No, it has math problems, too.”

– “Of course not, the book merely has disconnected words.”

– “Are you sure you belong in Honors?”

– “No.  It is just a heavy weight and part of the President’s fitness plan for the youth of America.  Here, you need another book.”

Well, back to teaching!


Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Learning, Lessons from students

Joke 904

Good way to end a week of state mandated assessments…

The Laughing Housewife

A bus filled with politicians was driving down a country road, when the bus ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. The old farmer went over to investigate.

A few days later, the local sheriff came out looking for the missing politicos, saw the crashed bus, and asked the farmer where all the politicians had gone.

The farmer said, “I buried ’em all…out back.”

The sheriff asked, “Were they ALL dead?”

The old farmer replied, “Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how them politicians lie.”



View original post

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

Another Sunday… Continued

I slept on my dilemma:  to have students share laptops, or to have students write on paper.  I decided to let the classes share.  It worked out well.  The students were able to help one another create their blogs.  Of course, they have to finish the work for homework, and I gave them two days to complete the assignment.

Interestingly, I had students complete a survey that asked them if they would be completing the blog at home or the public library.  Out of 150 students, only three have said they would need the public library.  Our students have the resources at home that we cannot provide at school.  This is good news!  As for the three without computers or Internet access, I can work with them at school.  I can find one computer during their lunch period or study hall.

I wondered if blogging would work, but I already had one student ask if she could write more posts than the required ones!  Since I am trying to avoid sarcasm, I refrained from saying, “No!  There will be no extra writing and no fun!”

Another teacher is trying the same blogging site and we are collaborating on what is working and what needs improvement.  I will keep you posted on what we learn.  If you have any experiences, ideas, or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Learning, Writing

Another Sunday; Another Change in Plans

Students of Saint Mary's Hall

Students of Saint Mary’s Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

I always begin lesson planning on Thursday, so I can stay focused on my goals.  I have been planning to try to have my students use the tools of the 21st century to analyze and write about literature.  The blog also allows them to respond to other student’s opinions also; however, they cannot merely say, “I concur.”  I expect students to support their opinions with facts from the reading selection.  It’s Sunday and I am ready to go…

Except I checked the English department’s laptops and we are down to 21.  Five of my six classes have more than 21 students.  I am left with the dilemma: how do I have students create a blog when they don’t have a computer?

I think I will go back to the 20th century and have them write on notebook paper, then share their analysis with a partner who will write a response.  I can cover the same standards in the curriculum.  I have reserved the good computer lab for the first open day, Jan. 6, so I can introduce the blog then.  But, it is late.  Perhaps I will have a different idea in the morning.




Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Lesson Plans, Writing

Can I Have a Pass to Wendy’s?

The first day of school.  It brings all emotions from fear to trepidation to excitement.  Not just with students or teachers, even with a principal.  For example, last night, our principal posted on Facebook,  “So excited for tomorrow and the first day of school.  Hope I can sleep!  Here’s to a great school year!”  Of course, I facetiously commented, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…”

She didn’t bite.  She has been a teacher and an administrator for a while, AND she is a mom.  There. is. NO. fooling. moms.

Speaking of Moms, my wife, who works from home, LOVES the start of school.  She hosts a big lunch time party when I go back to school.  I bet she has another party when the kids begin.  The great thing about the second party is that she never asks me to clean the house, nor does she really talk about it.

Anyway, today was an awesome day!  The students in my classes are awesome.  I look forward to seeing the Honors students written assignments from the summer.

There was one thing today that made me laugh today.  It was a first.  No, it wasn’t a kid in the wrong room, or a freshmen being late because he went to Spanish instead of English.  As immature as I can be, I don’t find this funny. These things happen.

Let me give some background information.  We have Commons.  Many moons ago, before I began teaching, the school had too many students to put all of the kids in study halls.  The administrators had a good idea.  Place seniors, later adding juniors because of increased enrollment, in the lunch room (A.K.A. Commons.)  In other words, upper classroom, because of maturity, can spend a study hall in the lunch room.

Moving forward to today… I am one of the teachers assigned to Commons duty for period 2.  It is not a lunch period; it is 8-8:45 a.m.  This is a fun duty.  I get to walk around and talk to former students.  They are more mature and doing homework.  It is a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Strangely, today provided a memorable moment:

Student: Why doesn’t the breakfast line accept credit cards?

Me: Well, businesses who use credit cards have to pay a fee to the credit card company.  I guess the school district does not want to spend the 1-2% to allow students to use credit cards.  (Why does this kid have a credit card is my first thought.)

Student: Can I have a pass to Wendy’s?


Wendy’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Me: (laughing which is a little unprofessional, but I was caught off guard)  I can’t do that.

Student: Why not?

Me: Well, number 1 – I don’t give passes out of Commons.  Number 2 – Wendy’s is not open.  Number 3 – I can not give you permission to leave the building.  Only the principal can.  Yes, I threw the principal under the bus if the young man decides to ask her for a pass to Wendy’s.  Hey, that is why she gets paid the big bucks,  to put up with me, right?

Needless to say, this opening day is number two on the most memorable first days.  Very first day ever, 1988, will always be most memorable.

This is going to be a funny year.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Humor, Learning