Sunday, October 30, 2011

Term 1 Grades

So the past couple of years I have had a huge struggle with how many of my kids couldn't pass my class. Even with grade weights in their favor (as in, all you had to do to pass was CLASS WORK!), I was getting about a third of all my kids failing.

As I described in previous blogs, I have made some changes to help my kids just by building in a little more structure. If you recall, I pondered whether it would help student grades.

Well, term 1 grades are posted. The verdict is in.

I have 63 out of 192 students with an A grade. That's 33%! A third of my students have an A! I think I had maybe two or three students per class last year with an A. This is amazing!

I have 20 out of 192 students with an F grade. That's just over 10%. Most of my classes only have two or three Fs. My 3A and 4B have 5 and 6 Fs, respectively. There's just not much I can say for these kids when I handed them a detailed grade printout and told them to come talk to me--and with many of them, even providing them a detailed packet that they could turn in. The obviously elected not to do it, in spite of the extreme measures I took to help them pass.

These numbers obviously leave 109 out of 192 students passing with a B, C, or D grade. So combined with the A kids, 90% of my students are passing my class! This is cause for celebration, people!

This year, behavior issues are almost nonexistent for me. This combined with the fact that so many of these kids are achieving leaves me with more energy to intervene with my struggling students.

I am so happy to have a group of kids that behaves, that works hard, and that's making me love my job this year. I'm sure a lot of the changes I have built in play a big role in their achievement, but if I'm being totally honest, this is just a great group!

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Your Side

Aren't teachers pretty much on every student's side? I mean... I plan entire terms... I give out rubrics... I model what I expect... I write lesson plans... I grade papers... I accept late work... I reach out to the kids who are failing and try to intervene...

So why, then, do parents insist on making a teacher the enemy?

My friend Cody shared this comic on my wall...

The thing is, that it's not really a comic. It's not funny. It's the truth.

We've even talked about it extensively in faculty meetings: Gen X parents! They're freaking insane.

I have to write this blog because I have 5 more classes' narratives to grade, and I cannot concentrate because I am too upset.

I had this student who pretty much did nothing all term. I'd explain directions two and three times, and he'd be doing something totally different. Or he'd be doing nothing at all. Or he'd be sleeping.

Here in the last week of the term, comes mom to the rescue. She wants to know what he can do to get his grade up. So he turned in a bunch of work and went from an F to a C-, which I think is pretty awesome, all things considered. And he's lucky I even took so much work he had no excuse not to do in the first place.

She calls me today inquiring about why a certain grade was not entered. I explained that it was because I am still grading those and will enter them later today. I told her what her son received on it (10/30), and she was not happy.

"Well I read his draft and it seemed fine!" she defended.

"I graded by the same rubric as I gave the students, so they knew what I expected. He didn't really meet the requirements of the rubric. If you want to sit down and talk about it and why I gave him this grade, we can do that."

She then asked, "Do you have something against my son?!"

Granted, I have lost my patience with this student before. Even before I get angry, though, I try to inquire what students are thinking and what their thought process was behind what they were doing. This particular student never has an answer; it's like he is a mute. That's fine--frustrating, but fine. At least he's not disrespectful. I've never been unfair to him. I have been noticeably (and I think understandably) frustrated with him, but not mean to him. And in front of her, I have been stern, but never mean.

After being totally taken aback by what she was asking me, I responded, "No, I don't have anything against him. I mean I will admit I have gotten frustrated with him throughout the term because of how many times I will give instructions 3-4 times and he is still not doing his work or following directions. But no I don't have anything against him."

She said, "OK, thank you!" in a totally ungrateful tone. I said, "M-hm." And I guess that was how we were saying goodbye, but I didn't know this, so I didn't hang up. I stayed on the phone long enough to hear her say, angrily, "F---ing b---h!"

My mouth dropped open in surprise, and I hung up the phone.

A few minutes later, after my heart rate doubled and after I had gathered myself together a little better, I wrote her an email.

In my email I attached the rubric for the assignment which her son didn't do very well on, his actual submission, and another submission of A-level work, explaining that this should clear up my expectations on the assignment. Then I wrote, "I couldn’t help but overhear what you said after our conversation over the phone. I apologize if you don’t like me or the way I run my class. I will attach the disclosure so my policies, procedures, and expectations are clear."

I went on to reassure her that I don't have anything against her son and that his grade jump is something to be proud of. I explained that in spite of his work ethic, I have accepted and generously graded all of his assignments. I told her that her son is capable of much more than he has been putting out this term and that we both can work together for his success.

I believed it was a very professional approach to the issues she brought up, and a good way for me to have closure about what she had called me.

While I was out of my classroom talking to the administration about what happened, the lady called again and left a message.

In her message she claimed such things as, "I did not say anything about hating you, and you did not hear that out of my mouth." (She's right, I said nothing about her hating me. She chose that word on her own.) "I don't appreciate the email that you sent me. What you are saying is a lie, and I do not appreciate it." "I have noticed the way that you interact with my son, and it's not nice." "I said 'OK thank you,' and I hung up. Nothing ever came out of my mouth after that, so I don't know where you're getting your stuff from." "But I can sense how you interact with my son. It's not an adult way. And you have something against my son." (Actually, now I have something against you, but your kid's OK.)

So all of this totally took me away from being able to grade narratives.

I responded to her by email just a few minutes ago reiterating my intentions to help her kid do well next term. If she or her son felt like I had dealt with him unfairly or inappropriately, or if she wanted to talk about anything else, I said, we could do that with an administrator. Again, I've been stern with her son, and I've gotten frustrated with him, but not unfair or "not adult."

It took a lot of restraint for me to not call her back in a rage. First, calling me an effing B, and then calling me a liar?

"You know what, ma'am, you're right. Since you say I didn't hear it, I didn't hear you call me a f---ing b---h. I'm a liar."

When it comes down to it, she is embarrassed that I heard her call me a name, and she's trying to place blame elsewhere and make the problem into something else entirely. And what was that? "I said 'thank you' and hung up"? Oh. That sounds like a lie to me.

If he switches to another class, where the teacher won't accept late work in the last week of school like I do, then he'll probably fail. See what a "f---ing b---h" I am when the other two seventh grade teachers won't take his work! Good luck with that.

Instead of, "Thank you for taking his late work! Thanks for your help. I am sorry for his laziness. We'll do better next term," I get called names. So fun.

There are good things about my job. Sometimes. But parents rarely have anything to do with that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Ode to Health

OK, so I am no health freak. Baking is one of my most favorite hobbies. And while I don't binge on the cookies, cakes, brownies, or other treats I make, and although I often throw out some of my junk food that has expired, I do have quite a sweet tooth. I try to exercise a little self-control and eat just a little of something sweet instead of a whole candy bar or several servings of something else. Depriving myself of what I wanted never did me any favors in the long run. I consider myself to be a pretty well-balanced person and believe in moderation in most things.

While I may not have the best self-control and love splurging sometimes on an In-N-Out burger or some onion rings at Red Robin from time to time, I have a real interest in all things health.

It wasn't always that way. While my mother is a fabulous cook, and while I have grown up loving vegetables, healthy meal and snack options were not the preference of anyone at home. Soda was consumed in mass amounts (not by me, necessarily) in my house. Doritos and cookies were a regular staple. Fast food was a viable option for dinner on some nights. And our family liked to go out to eat as well. If we were hungry, the fast, fatty option was the desirable one. No way was anyone going to whip up some stir fry vegetables or brown rice or eat an apple instead of chips. That's just not how it was. I never would have eaten a lot of cookies or a whole bag of chips or a pint of ice cream--I still wouldn't. I'm merely illustrating what was typically available and desired by me and others at my house. Then I moved out.

I think my love of and interest in health and fitness started when I was 19 going on 20. I was dating a guy ten years older than I was who had a lot of years of understanding the benefits of health and exercise. I got up to work out with him a couple of times in the week, early in the morning. I didn't learn to love exercise from him; I was still young and very afraid to step out of my comfort zone. But he taught me some basics that still remain the foundation of my current workouts. He planted the seed.

When we broke up, I separated my gym membership at 24 Hour fitness from his account and have kept it for the past five years.

He also encouraged me to eat well. I've always enjoyed healthy food, but like I said before, had never really picked it as the first thing I wanted to eat.

I also took HEPE 129 to fulfill a general education requirement at BYU in the spring of 2006, if I'm not mistaken. I learned a lot about aerobic and anaerobic exercise--the importance of cardiovascular training and the principles of weight lifting. While I'm sure lots of people didn't read the texts in their entirety since it was an online course, I did! I just loved learning about it. I had to set weekly goals for myself and report on how well I had done with those goals. I started trying new machines and new exercises, really pushing myself out of my comfort zone. (I came to the realization that no one was watching me or could tell if I was confused about a machine.)

So from this course and from that past boyfriend, I experienced a dramatic increase in my knowledge of health and fitness within less than a year.

For the past couple of years, I have gone through patterns of exercising a lot and then getting lazy (usually in the cold winter months or when I was really tired from school and work). I typically exercise a lot during my summers because I have a lot of free time and find that sufficient rest and weather are not obstacles. I have been on a couple of different diets, one of them several times. And while I don't recommend dieting (rather, just smart lifestyle changes), I learned some very important health/eating principles from one of the diets.

I have learned much in recent years about reading food labels and making informed decisions about what I eat and how much I eat. So while I may still make less-than-healthy decisions, I at least understand what is wrong with what I am taking in. I know a lot about what to eat and at what times of day it's best, or when something's never good at all (you know, all the joyous things in life, like donuts). I drink at least 2.2 liters of water per day, I don't drink much soda or caffeine, I worked out six days per week all summer. And for the past week and a half have been unable to exercise because of being sick. You can't work out if you can't breathe, ya know? And before this would have been no big deal, but NOW I have missed it so badly! I did the 30 Day Shred today and have done yoga the past two days because that's all I could really handle since I'm on the tail end of this cold. All I'm trying to stress here is that I understand the importance of eating right and exercising--and that I now enjoy doing both--much more this year than ever before. Here's the why...

When I first started on this health kick in 2006, I'd visit home and insist that my mom buy me whole grain cereals, fruit, and non-fat yogurt. I'd try and try to encourage my dad, especially, to start planning his lunch meals and to eat a good breakfast in the morning. He has been overweight and pretty unhealthy for about half of my life. I have nagged and nagged at him to drink water, drink water, drink water! We went to the store, bought him a lunch pale or small cooler, packed him some food, tried to make things better. But with a majority of his day spent on the road for work, a fast and convenient meal usually won the battle.

All of my hounding didn't really do a whole lot until earlier this year, in late March or early April, when my dad was informed that he had type 2 diabetes.

Here he is in 2009...

In April 2010 and December 2010 respectively...

While this was a devastating blow for him, I don't think he or I or anyone else was really shocked given his prior eating habits and sedentary lifestyle.

My dad has always been one to preach that everything humans need has been provided for us by our Creator here on earth. He has been a serious proponent of being self-sufficient, going so far as to construct his own hydroponic system in the backyard and lots of other projects and goals in the making. He's not a fan of medication for various reasons, particularly that there are those who profit financially when there are natural and healthy solutions to health problems. He also believes that almost all of the disease and cancer that plagues modern society has all been brought on by mankind itself--that we have put ourselves into this mess.

But this diagnosis was a huge wake up call for him. And if you know my dad, you know that when he makes up his mind, there's no stopping him.

Since his diagnosis, my dad has naturally, without medicine, lost over 60 pounds and is down to 219 on his 6'1 frame. He has been able to keep his blood count under 100 and sometimes even under 90 for several days in a row by doing some moderate exercise and controlling his diet.

Here he is now with a friend at a reunion...

I am thinking that my determination, commitment, and enthusiasm over the summer and up until now has been rejuvenated by my dad.

I already understood the joys and benefits of health and exercise. I understood it before having any major health issues. I've tried to stress the importance of it to others around me, including my dad! But watching him make a total 180 in his lifestyle has been a serious inspiration to me to be consistent in and better about taking care of myself.

I learn more and more every day about the benefits of certain foods (especially plants) through conversations with my dad and through movies like Forks Over Knives. And I get stronger in my commitment to keeping myself healthy to avoid the most common issues, especially in the western world, of obesity, various types of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

I am amazed at the human body, its mechanisms, and its ability to heal itself from seemingly irreversible ailments when we make good, informed decisions. Back and forth "quick solution" diets are no way to go. It's with consistent commitment that we can maintain our bodies and prevent illness.

Thank you dad, for setting such a great example of stubborn dedication to health, and for inspiring me to continue in that vein as well.

My praise goes to all of those who respect and take care of themselves, and even more of my adoration and respect goes to those who take care of themselves in order to better care for others! We were created to be His hands here on earth, after all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Father's Wisdom

Zoooooomclank! ZooooomCLANK!

He was pushing his Craftsman drawer in and pulling it back out with all the force and frustration he could muster.


I watched as he took a totally different approach to a problem than I might have taken. It looked to me like a tool had angled itself in such a way as to make it so the drawer would not open. Kind of like the middle drawer of your dresser not closing because of the clothes popping up from underneath. Just calmly move those clothes out of the way. Or in this case, the tool.

But heaven forbid a young woman offer a rational suggestion to a logical man twice her age and wisdom. I said nothing.

In the middle of his violent “solution,” he looked up at me, red-faced and angry. “Don’t have kids. They’ll ruin everything you own.”

At some point he took a deep enough breath to calm down and figure out that that was, indeed, what was going on: a tool was in the way. He finally got the drawer open.

I stood there, watching him realize how horribly he had dealt with the situation. My arms were dropped at my sides. I felt completely numb in bewilderment of what my father had just said to me, his firstborn.

A few days before this event, I had asked him for some of his favorite fatherhood memories. He took a moment to consider, looking up at the ceiling while lying on his bed. It was a sunny California day in February. The waterfall in the backyard was audible, and the situation was relaxing enough to invite a positive response. I thought.

He said, “Gosh, I don’t know. All I can think of is stressful times.” He went on to say that he was just always paranoid that something was wrong, always worried for our safety. We kids were a huge burden—a chore. Dad managed to utter something about “all of the times in the spa.” Good! There was a positive memory.

“…But even then, I was worried about you guys drowning.”


I thought of all the times we had run to greet him in the driveway when he got home. I remembered taking off his shoes. I recalled moments on my parents’ bed where my brother and I scratched his back. My favorite moments were after my bath when I’d run to the family room, and Dad would take the towel and dry my wet hair with a playful forcefulness that made me giggle. Or the time where we went to a daddy-daughter dance for Girl Scouts. Fishing.

I tried to remind him of some of these things, maybe to get his memory going. Maybe in that moment, all he could think about was all of the bad stuff. He smiled at my reminders, and followed up shortly with, “But you guys barely ever took off my shoes for me.”

In the moment when he told me never to have kids, I understood what fatherhood was to him.

It was something that robbed him of his rock star dreams. Fatherhood made him do a job he didn’t want in order to fulfill a duty he never asked for. It required sacrificing his hobbies and artistic abilities. It was looking out for the safety of little humans who didn’t have a sense of… well… anything.

Never in my 24 years (18 of them at home) had I wondered if my dad loved me. He was always sure to tell us. We were always provided for. We were always hugged and kissed and spoiled. I could see his love for his children, especially the youngest, in his face as he tried to hold back a smile that just couldn’t be contained.

But I understood his conflict. I understood that even though he loved us, he may have wanted his life to be different. He may have been able to find more joy if he had gone in another direction.

Once he had gotten the tools that he needed, he got up and left. I sat down in the chair and started opening his Craftsman drawers one at a time. With tears streaming down my face, I organized them in the way that made the most sense to me, a young woman of half his age and wisdom.

I hoped that one small act, where I carefully handled all of his things, might bring him some small amount of satisfaction. I sought to make him remember that kids didn’t just ruin everything.

We could fix things, too.


Vicariously Through Me

“I used to run six miles every day!” she’d say. “My measurements were 34-24-36!”

I never knew how to respond to that. I could tell she was proud. Nothing I could have responded with would’ve changed that.

But there was something else in her tone besides pride. I have never been able to put my finger on it. I never could find the word for it.

One day, when I was around 14, I had a lot of energy. Have you ever felt that? Like you had to do something physical or all of your limbs might explode sparkle-dust energy everywhere? So before I exploded said dust everywhere, I put on some comfy clothes and shoes. I told my mom I was going to go for a run.

She beamed, “Oh! Great!” I almost wished I hadn’t told her.

A few days later, I overheard her telling someone with such pride, “I think we may have a runner in the family! Janae likes running. She’s going to take after her mommy.” I really wished I hadn’t told her.

Now there was this expectation. Running never had been my thing. It wasn’t going to just become my thing overnight.

I didn’t let it bother me too much—the guilt, I mean. From disappointing her.

I always felt in my heart that she wanted this hot, thin, model, athlete for a daughter.

I remember being seven and hearing her talk about how fat she was, in such a disgusted way. I knew in first grade that thinness was important to her: that someone couldn’t be beautiful unless they were slim, like she had been.

In third grade, I got a bunch of Lisa Frank stuff for my birthday. One of them was a diary with a penguin on the cover. The first page was a little survey for me to fill in about myself. It asked something about a goal for the year. I wrote, “To lose weight.”

In fifth grade, I drank Slim Fast shakes for lunch.

In seventh grade, I ate a banana for lunch.

Apparently, it was my goal for the next several years.

Looking back at pictures, I was not fat at all. I was perfectly average. And somehow I remember feeling less than appealing up until I was about nineteen years old. No, even at nineteen, I wasn’t a runner…

In my junior year of high school, I joined journalism. I had a knack for writing, and my mom started informing everyone, “Janae’s going to be a journalist!” She’d talk all about what a great writer I was, “like her mommy.” I loved this praise more than the short-lived “she’s a runner” praise. This was something I could latch onto, something I valued. Like my mommy or not, I knew I was good at this.

Even though I never wanted to be a journalist, that’s what I told everyone. “What are you going to major in?” “Journalism.” “Oh, that’s great! So you write?” “Yes, I write.”

Yes, I write. I write. I can write. I write essays. I write newspaper articles. I write editorials. I write personal pieces. I write letters. I write.

I even put “journalism” on all my standardized tests and college applications.

But do I interview? Do I get in people’s faces? Do I care about the news? No, no, and no. Even at eighteen, I wasn’t a journalist…

It wasn’t until I got to college that I actually realized it was my choice what I would go to school for. I could now decide who and what I wanted to be. And it came to me, not as a surprise, because it was always there: an English teacher.

I had had so many good ones in school. I love books. I love grammar. I love writing. All of it adds so much to my life. How could I not share this love with teenagers?

And there was my mother, telling everyone how she tried to convince me to do journalism, to help me avoid a life of impoverished enslavement. Reminding me how I’d never make any money.

But here I am at twenty-four, a self-accepting English teacher.

“I used to care what other people thought,” I tell my daughter. “But I don’t want you to make the same mistake.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Conference Saturday

I love General Conference.

It feels like fall officially is in.

I was good and spread my homework throughout the week so I could focus on Conference on Saturday. I finished the last of my homework about 15 minutes in to morning session. (I had three chapters of reading, plus part of an article, plus a reaction paper to the reading, plus my first case study report).

I listened to conference. While listening, I got a lot done:
I did laundry
I made pumpkin spice cookies
I loaded all my Scentsy burners with Pumpkin Roll scented wax
I decorated for Halloween (I put up spider webs and some Halloween figurines, and a trick-or-treat bag)
I did dishes/cleaned my kitchen

Between conference sessions
I went to the gym
I vacuumed
I cleaned my bathroom

After Conference was over, I went to the mall to pick up a new screen shield for my phone.

Then I had a date that included Happy Sumo and wandering around the Gateway, Glee, some Halloween decorating, and conversation. Lots of fun!

My favorite talks were from Brother Jose Alfonso, Elder Christofferson, and President Boyd K. Packer. I was pretty emotional during a large number of the talks. A lot of them were things I needed to hear, about time management (and time wasting, like on social networks), about the atonement, and about how Heavenly Father loves and knows me. I felt like that last part was the theme, at least during morning session--that Heavenly Father is mindful of us and loves us, and not to get discouraged. Lots of "be encouraged" talks!

Anyway, yesterday was a really fantastic day. I got a lot done, was very festive, and was spiritually edified. Yay for fall!