Monthly Archives: June 2012

Summer Plans

When I was a younger teacher, I considered getting a job at a department store during the summer months to make more money.  I never did it.  My closest brush with retail came during the summer of my sophomore year at Texas A&M University.  I worked at Toys “R” Us as a cashier for four weeks.  One night they gave me a cart full of items and told me to restock it (put it back) in fifteen minutes.  I was dumbfounded because I’d never walked the store aisles to acquaint myself with merchandise.  I concluded that this was not what I wanted to do, so I left soon after.  I began my first teaching post in Abilene ISD and went through my entire tenure there as a traveling teacher.  This means I didn’t have a classroom of my own; I used a cart to carry my supplies.  The end of the year arrived, and either a memor was sent or posted to alert us about teaching summer school.  I declined the offer and spent my time with my family and friends enjoying a schedule of my own.  I jealously guard my summers for family time and attend professional development workshops as required and desired.  I consider myself a life-long learner, so I usually enjoy finding out about something new-to-me in education.

We are asked to complete twelve non-contract hours of staff development in our district.  I usually exceed that amount and attempt to complete my requirements as soon as possible at the beginning of the summer.  Some of my newly former students fill my mind and cause me to reflect on how I could approach things differently.  It helps.  I also see the wisdom of waiting until later in the summer so that my new knowledge will be fresher in my mind.

My family is but one of my main motivating factors to take my professional development seriously.  I look forward to time with my guys–my husband and son–and just hanging out with them.  When I complete my courses, I can relax and go on Sonic drink runs or watch an entertaining television program.  I am selfish about my time with them and do not feel repentant at all for my attitude.  My summers are my own; however, it could be good to work with curriculum writing or remediating students who need that extra little dose of TLC.

This summer is my first one as a rising high school band mom.  I will be getting my son to and from band camp in late July and early August, so I’ve delayed some of my classes to coincide with his schedule.  It just so happens that his school is hosting the summer staff developments this year. I will enjoy that time in the car together talking about our respective days and what we’ve learned as I have done for the past seven years.  Next time, I’ll visit with you about protocol for professional development.  More anon.

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VIPs – Unfinished Business

6.  School counselors – she or he is the person students go to see about schedule changes, drama with friends, or serious issues at home.  They manage classroom schedules and help balance the number of students in a class when necessary.  Some manage the logistics of standardized testing and also act as liaisons during parent meetings.  They have also been know to have steady supplies of chocolate and/or kleenex as needed.  They listen with their hearts and hear what you don’t say.  We are blessed with two lovely ladies who beautifully fill this capacity.

7.  The librarian is an amazing woman to ask about research, information, etc.  She also has the laminator in her possession.  The laminator helps class sets of manipulatives like cooperative learning labels and signs stay alive after student handling.  When you want certain subjects or genres of books or to make sure your students are citing their sources appropriately, she is the one to know.  Our librarian has student aides to help her during the day.  Since I am an English language arts teacher, she is one of my best resources.  She knows every student in the building because they all have to check out a book to do a book report at some time.  She knows about GoogleDocs, Moodle, and Schoology because she is super tech-savvy!

8.  The technology facilitator/guru keeps the machines happy; if the machines are happy, then the teachers are happy.  This person often knows of web resources and new ways to integrate Web 2.0 into your classroom.  They don’t service iPads or Android devices, but they do keep batteries for recalcitrant projector remotes and fresh mice for computers.  Ours also delivers the mobile laptops to our classrooms so that we can provide Internet access for all students in our classes for particular projects and activities.  She takes care of the copier.  All staffers develop a love-hate relationship with the copier.  It seems to like working beautifully on Thursday afternoons, but on Monday when you realize you need 150 tests as soon as possible, it has a distinct aversion to physical labor.  Nefarious gremlins cause this, so you must speak gently saying, “Nice machine.  Good machine.” as you lovingly pat the document feeder.  Our tech guru advises me against any manner of brutality I may dream up for that copier.  She is a wise woman, indeed.

9.  The receptionist determines the first impression of your school when visitors and parents come in.  She has the sweetest voice you’ll ever hear on the phone.  She is a jill-of-all-trades and a multi-tasker.  She has office aides who deliver notes, missing gym clothes, or misplaced lunches to students.  I like to answer her calls to my room with some crazy remark like “Domino’s Pizza?  Great! I’d like a large pepperoni with extra cheese.”  My students and our receptionist laugh at my humor.  I even jokingly refuse to send the student she needs to the office in hopes that she’ll let me have a piece of chocolate she keeps stashed somewhere.  Sometimes my little ploy works, and my students are happy because I’ve had my chocolate, and now I’m happy, too.

As I go along, if I realize that I have overlooked someone, I will share insights about that particular person.  Until later!



VIPs Continued

3.  The school nurse makes sure you and your students are as well as possible.  She is often a registered nurse who chooses the school setting.  She checks fevers, provides bandages, and gives you a place to lie down.  If you don’t feel well, speak to her about it.  In my first teaching post, I managed to catch a cold that became bronchitis.  I coughed like mad and began hyperventilating to the point that I frightened myself.  Peering over her reading glasses, she told me to go home.  “You can come back tomorrow if you feel better!”  I acquiesced since she had a mother’s ferocity about her.  I went home, rested quietly, and returned the next day.  I made sure to check in with her.

4.  The building principals are the assistant and head bosses.  Some have incredibly funny senses of humor while others are serious most of the time.  I trust my principals to support me when needed.  Because they are the boss, and I’m not, we enjoy a respectful, warm professional rapport.  I go to them when I have questions or need help and/or advice.  Sometimes they attend parent meetings, hold brown-bag luncheons for question/answer sessions with parents, maintain book counts and records, manage maintenance and repair requests, schedule the school activity calendar, and handle student discipline among a host of other responsibilities.  They are visible in the hallways between classes and are often checking to see what we are doing in our rooms.  They patrol lunchrooms and attend school events.  Principals have serious responsibilities, but they make their staff welcome to visit in the office or on a stroll down a hallway.  The best principals I have worked for maintain a strict open-door policy.  If the door is open, and they’re not on the phone, then you are welcome to step in.  They don’t forget that they were teachers who sometimes faced daunting circumstances. The best ones know each student’s name in the building.  My current building principal loves the Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson as much as I do.  When I can, I let him know if I’m sharing Hank with my students so that he can laugh at Hank, his not-so-hapless sidekick Drover, and Hank’s constant enemy Pete the Barncat.  Invite your building and/or assistant principal to stop by if you’re doing an educational game and let him or her participate.  The kids love the interaction, and the principals love competing against the kids.

5.  The cafeteria lady makes sure your students have lunch and sometimes a decent breakfast to start the day.  I stoll down several times a week to get my daily glass of iced tea.  I greet the cafeteria workers whenever I get something to eat or drink.  I jokingly warm my afternoon classes that if I don’t have my midday/afternoon tea, they’re in trouble.  The cafeteria staff provide salads, soups, snack food, baked potatoes, and plate lunches.  At Thanksgiving, they serve turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, greenbeans, a roll, and cranberry sauce. I love to buy my lunch on that Thursday before Thanksgiving.  Last fall, I hosted a Thanksgiving lunch for my students.  I allowed them to RSVP and made a master list.  I provided name plates for my kids, some paper turkey centerpieces, and a memory I hope they won’t forget.  I walked about the tables I reserved for my students and greeted each one.  I did manage to enjoy my turkey luncheon, too.

Visiting the cafeteria allows you to see the kids in a different light.  They are relaxed and laughing with their friends.  Some are creatures of habit and sit in the same place or general area.  I will walk by some of my students’ tables in my quest for tea and give them an extra dose of attention which they love!  I may say “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” or “Do you have my chips today? No? Well, pay up tomorrow or else!” with a gleam in my eye.  The students love seeing their teachers outside of the classrooms.  My afternoon students breathe with a sigh of relief when they see I’ve got my tea in hand.


VIPs – Part One

There are some very important people you need to know at your campus.

1.  The school secretary is a warm-hearted lady who is often a married mother or grandmother.  She is super-organized and maintains the budgets for the school as well as the principal’s calendar and appointments.  She is Mama.  Remember her birthday, kids’ names, and her favorite drink on a Sonic run.  If you are kind to her, she reciprocates.  She loves it when you remember administrative professionals’ day.  We call our building secretary “Chief.”  She is always ready to listen and lend a helping hand.  I turn in my purchase requests on time, and I can get what I need for my students without fail.  She has the inside track to supplies if you need them.  She may have that extra stapler, package of pencils, or pair of scissors you so desperately need.  Her desk is just the way she wants it!  Move items at your own risk.  I usually ask if she’s interruptable before barging in with my requests, concerns, and worries.  Our building secretary’s only flaw is that she is a Longhorn fan.  I am an Aggie, but we get along anyway.  She is a sweet, down-to-earth person who smoothes the rough edges we don’t see and makes it all look so easy.

2.  The school custodian/janitorial staff are unsung heroes of the hallways.  They make the rooms sparkle and help tidy the mistakes we and our students inadvertently make.  When our babies get sick or make a mess, they clear things up for us. At my first building assignment, we had a wonderful custodian who might have appeared rough on the outside but had a heart of gold.  I was unloading my supplies from my little car and felt dizzy.  Here came the pavement–bam! A city bus stopped, and the driver hopped out. My “second responder” was Bo, our janitor.  He hurried out the door and crossed the lawn.  I laid there a moment and gathered my wits.  Feeling embarrassed, I sheepishly sat up.  I assured both men that I was fine.  Bo collected my things, and I took his arm.  We went inside.   After that incident, I noticed that Bo would watch me just to make sure I was all right.  “I take care of my teachers!” was his mantra.  I wish I’d remembered to write a nice thank-you note or bake some chocolate chip cookies, but I appreciated his concern and compassion.

Mr. Will was a more recent custodian friend in my current district.  He and I discussed football scores during the season.  He is a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan like my husband.  One day I made him laugh because I seemed to stay late most days until one day a particularly nasty storm cell rolled in.  I apparently gathered my gear and made haste to leave.  He would kid me about that whenever the skies clouded up.  I felt protected by him.  My son also loved talking to Mr. Will; they disagreed about teams since my son is for some reason a Carolina Panthers fan.  Who knows why?  Whenever I see him, I run up and hug him saying, “Mr. Will!”

Alice followed Mr. Will at my school.  She was a gentle lady who made sure I watered my plants. She filled an empty water bottle, labeled it “plantas,” and pointedly left it in a conspicuous spot where I wouldn’t forget.  She is a native of El Paso; her younger sister Gaby is our head custodian for the night crew.  Before she went back home, Alice made me some homemade empanadas.  They were delicious! Alice would dust my desk and computer workstation.  I don’t know if everyone was treated as well because some people seemed to be resentful of the custodians coming in after our tutoring time ended.  I always tell them, “Nunca hay problema conmiga si necesita limpiar.” (Translation – there is never a problem with me if you need to clean.)  When they have a really short time to clean up–like Meet the Teacher or Open House nights–I do not mind them coming in.  I cannot do my job without them!

My custodian friends are now Maricela and Norma.  Maricela is there during the day; she’s been a regular fixture since I began my current assignment.  She shies away from the spotlight, but she is important.  We speak Spanish together, and I try to remember to ask about her family.  Some of our current students are relatives, and she protects them like a mama bear.  Norma is part of the evening crew; she is no-nonsense!  She doesn’t like me to go barefoot because of the staples that sometimes fall into the floor and then become weapons of foot destruction.  She surprised me this past Christmas with an angel figurine that I promptly attached to my key chain for school.  None of my custodian friends call me by my first name.  It is usually “maestra” or “Mrs. Johnson.”


Welcome, welcome, welcome!

I decided to start this little blog or web dialogue to do something I’ve heard about during my teaching career.  I’ve been told I need to bottle up my knowledge and share it with younger teachers.  I am officially uncorking the genie of knowledge about how to be a real-life teacher.  I plan to share my insights about how it feels to be on the other side of the desk as a middle school teacher.  Welcome to my little corner of the world.  You may write me with questions, and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.  I am not an expert, but I have real-life experience.  Take care, and God bless!