My life in blog form

How do you plan for a sub?

In years past, I’ve actually made every attempt to create a lesson that is somehow related to what we are doing in class and requires only a tiny amount of substitute teaching ability. 

But then I ran into this problem:

Tomorrow is the second Friday of the school year, and I already need a sub.  I am being observed by Syracuse University in the college writing course that I teach for them at the high school.  The biggest issue is that I am in the middle of modeling the writing process for my students.  We design a graphic organizer, fill in all the blanks for it, and then use the organizer to write out paragraphs.  Tomorrow is the day I am supposed to be modeling that!  I can’t just tell the sub to let the students write their body paragraphs.  It would defeat the entire purpose of modeling.  Meanwhile, I refuse to give them some mundane reading assignment. 

So what’s a girl to do?

I’m using Jing.

It’s a download that allows you to record what you are doing right on the computer.  I’m going to put the graphic organizer up and then put a blank document up and narrate (model) the writing of a body paragraph.  After that, students can write their own body paragraphs for the second half of the essay.  I’m off to record.  I’ll update on Monday to let everyone know how it goes!

P.S. you can use Jing to take pictures as well.


Oops. Can I just post once a week?

It has come to my attention that I am a total blog slacker and that people actually check this blog.  That being said, I sit here on a Tuesday night, exhausted from only two days in the classroom, and ready for a nice, long eight hour nap. 


But before I do that, I would like to dedicate this post to my new goal: integrating technology into my classroom.

Yes.  I have a smartboard.

Yes.  I use media from time to time.

No. I do not get it into the hands of the students enough.

So last week, I took the plunge.  I e-mailed the tech. department and asked for my own personal laptop cart.

And they responded with  a big, fat, hairy, “No.”

It doesn’t hurt to ask. 

So I’m back to fighting with my colleagues to reserve one of the three laptop carts that our high school shares.  Of course, no one wanted them the first week of school, which was great, because I planned on using technology that very first week.

For those who have yet to step into the classroom, the first few days are a whirlwind of students being added or dropped from your class roster.  Forget filling in your gradebook with names.  I didn’t even do that until yesteryday, and I’m sure I’ll have to cross off a name or two from those lists before the semester ends. 

So what does a teacher do when they have four days of school the first week, and they know that they might only see students one or two of those days?

Hint:  They don’t start their unit on Julius Caesar.

 Instead, they have their students do a bio-poem.  Yeah, that’s right.  I said it.  The most boring and mindless assignment on earth.  A monkey could fill out the information required for a bio-poem.  Oh, you’ve never heard of one?  Google it and commence gagging.

I am so over the bio-poem.  You want to use the bio-poem?  Make students create a bio-poem for a character from a novel.  That might actually require some thinking and result in some really clever writing.

Otherwise.  Toss it.

Unless you’re a teacher at my school.  I teach one section of AIS, and a brief look into the folders of my English students revealed that just about everyone was doing the ever-loving bio poem assignment with their students.  And boy were the bio poems insightful.  

Here is what I did:

I had students write the word “ANGRY” on a sheet of paper.  Then I gave them 30 seconds (I really timed them) to write as many “synonyms” as possible for the word.  Here a sample of the list we made:   upset, disappointed, cantankerous, pissed off, ticked off, unnerved, irritated, annoyed, unhappy, and so on.

Do all these words mean the same thing?  NO.  If a student told you that Ms. Jane walked into the room looking pissed off you would have a different image in your mind as opposed to saying Ms. Jane walked into the room looking disappointed.  Words are powerful.  Synonyms are many times not really synonyms, and the thesaurus isn’t always the best choice (did anyone see that episode of FRIENDS where Joey finds out about the thesaurus button?  I should totally show it in class). 

Of course, I used this to lead students into their technologically friendly assignment.  Create your own wordle.

Try it yourself.  You will soon become addicted.  The website is, and it uses Java to create word clouds.  I’ve found myself addicted to creating different clouds for subjects like tone words, adjectives, and so on.  I’ll try and upload some of my masterpieces tomorrow.

Anyways, the assignment required students to design their own wordle in which they carefully chose words that best describe them.  Once they finished, they needed to organize their words into a personally designed graphic organizer by topic (family, friends, favorite things, adjectives, etc.)  There really were no rules.  I wanted to know about them, and I wanted them to know that they needed to choose their words carefully because “insane” is not always the best choice for describing oneself. 

The kids were 100% engaged.  They designed incredibly beautiful wordles, and they were invested in writing well developed reflexive essays.  Of course, some kids still wrote that they were “crazy,” and you’re always going to have that kid who spends more time on his/her wordle than his/her writing.  But the finished product opened up doorways to discussion about my expectations for everything  from presentation to reviewing the ever-dreaded run-on.  One student even mentioned in her writing that this assignment was much better than bio-poems.  What an ego booster!

I was a total hard-ass with my grading.  The students received their papers back today with a rubric (I pride myself both on explanation of the grades earned as well as getting those graded papers back ASAP – my max is usually one week for essays).  Students must make appropriate changes and hand in their revised draft on Friday.  To me, this is a great way to set an academic tone for the year.

The best part?

I laminated their wordles, and they’re going to decorate my classroom come open house night.  And I’m pretty sure they’ll be more eye-catching than the bio-poems down the hall.     😉

I think I love my new principal

Back to school…back to school…..

It was our first day back to school for day one of our two Superintendent Conference Days.   We have a new principal at the high school, and I think I’m in love…

…with his philosophy (on everything). 

He started our first faculty meeting with this statement: (not exact words, but this is pretty close)

“While teaching in your classroom, you would not appreciate your students doing other things such as reading the newspaper, texting on their cell phones, or doing homework for another class.  Therefore, I expect you to show the same respect in my faculty meetings.  I will not waste your time in these meetings with issues that can be solved on other committees or with trivial information.  All I ask is that you show respect during my time with you.”

Can I tell you, nothing irks me more than a rude teacher, and boy are there plenty of them.  What is it with teachers talking or grading papers during meetings?  We would be offended if our students did the same, yet I think anyone who walked into one of our faculty meetings last year would have been appalled to see the teacher behavior. 

Needless to say, everyone in the meeting put their pens down and looked up.  Nice start!

His three expectations for his teachers:
1.  Communicate

2.  Be honest

3.  Show respect

Could he just come into my classroom on the first day and relay that to my students?  This guy shares pretty much the exact same philosophy that I do with them on the first day of school! 

Another point I loved:  Don’t use your cell phones in class.

Last year the big complaint was cell phone use in school.  Well I’m sorry, but wouldn’t you consider it a load of crap if you couldn’t use your cell phone at work, but your boss walked by your cubicle daily texting his buddies?  I hear it all the time from students, “Mr. So-and-so texts his friends all the time in the middle of class.”  Or “Mrs. So-and-so is on the phone with her daughter all the time.”  I know.  We’re adults, and as adults in the building, we should have priveledges that the students don’t have.  So why do we abuse them? 

Here’s what I tell my students:

“When you are in my class, you are entitled to 40 minutes of my undivided attention and best instruction.  You will NEVER find me texting my friends or chatting on my phone because that would be a disservice to you.  Therefore, I expect that while you are in my classroom you not open your phone or use it for any reason.”  And of course, I always add that if there is an emergency, tell me!

I think I confiscated two phones all year.  And as a side note – I sold my house in November and at one point was expecting a call from my realtor.  I informed every class at the beginning of the period that I was expecting this call, and that if for any reason I received the call that I was incredibly sorry, but that it would be as short as possible.

Students get it.  And if you show respect for the same rules you are applying to them, they will respect those rules as well.  I am a firm believer in that.

Here’s the kicker.  His philosophy on discipline is that it starts with the teacher, and when a teacher sends a student out of class, they are slowly losing power in their own classroom. 

Now I get it.  Kids can be tough.  But I’d like to think that with my diverse class schedule, I see the whole gamut (sp?) of behavior issues.  And I asked ONE student to leave my class last year.  In retrospect, I could have probably handled it differently, too.  I guess you learn as you go.  But I firmly believe that students who are discipline problems need to be dealt with through clear communication and clear expectations.  I also believe that as soon as you become argumentative with a student, you’ve lost them.  They don’t want to look like a fool in front of their friends, and you don’t want to look like you’ve lost control, but really, when you kick them out (which is what you’re stuck doing in these situations), you’ve already lost it. 

That being said.  I wanted to get up and hug the man, but I felt that might be a little too forward for the first day.  Regardless, I have a feeling that this is the beginning of a beautiful professional relationship.

I’ve already gone and done it.

I’ve neglected my blog already.  So I guess I’ll post a good update. 

First off, I’ve been keeping two blogs.  This is just a fun opportunity to share my opinions, ideas, and rants with everyone.  The other is a sort of diary of my housebuilding process.  You can check it out by going to

That being said, life this week has consisted of a few things.  One of them being home building things, which you can read about on my other blog, and school prep stuff.

My husband and I went into school on Sunday.  I like going on Sundays because NO ONE is there.  This means I can avoid “chatting” with other people in the building.  I don’t really have a “space” for all of my school stuff at home, so when I stay at school, I stay at school to get work done.  Nothing irks me more than being interrupted in the middle of designing an essay question or grading an exam.  I cannot multi-task when someone is trying to talk to me, and I try to send the signals too.  People love to interrupt me when I’m:

-sitting at my desk

– pen in hand, paper in front of me

-typing on the computer

– reading from a textbook

-writing something.


I mean, isn’t it obvious when you walk by my classroom that I’m in the process of THINKING?  Here’s what I think:  these people are avoiding work.  There.  I said it.  I have two Superintendent Conference days this week, and I’m willing to bet that while I’m trying to decorate my classroom or write out my objectives, someone will be wandering the halls looking for someone to waste their time with. 

I’ll shut my door tomorrow.  I will.  You don’t even have to dare me.  I’ll turn my iPod on to something that will turn most people away ( Maybe some Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly, or even Brand New).  If people haven’t heard of them they’re more likely to avoid listening to them.  I’ll shut my door.  Heck, I’ll even work with the lights off, so if people are walking by, they will think no one is in there at first glance.

I’ll let you know how it goes on Thursday.

Anyways, my husband and I went in to get some “work” done in my classroom.  Every spring they make the teachers draw a map of where they would like all of their stuff to be.  Then, every fall, we come back to classrooms filled with desks, computers, even bookshelves just thrown in in no particular order.  Heck, on that Sunday, I walked in to find another teacher’s entire computer desk (printer, DVD player, and scanner included) sitting in my classroom.  Not sure what that’s all about. 

So after two hours of readjusting and moving things around, the only thing I have left to do is decorate a few bulletin boards.  I’ll take any suggestions.  Right now, I have one designated for research papers.  But I’d like to do a nice design on the other one.  We start with Julius Caesar.  I was thinking maybe a nice diagram of the Globe Theatre?