Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter Fair

Winter Fair is always scheduled on the last day of school before winter break, (formerly known as Christmas Break.) It gives the students a little party atmosphere at the end of finals and the clubs on campus the opportunity to sell something and raise funds for their various endeavors. These are some of my students selling mistletoe for the Alpine Club whose advisor is Mrs. Hennings. This is a great club that goes camping and hiking throughout the year. From left to right are: Maria S., Claudia M. and Salvador M. The other two I am not familiar with but they were all doing a great job. (I bought a package; a steal for $1.00!) 
     Other than the winter fair I am playing bingo in my classes today. The kids have the chance to win a prize that I have put in a little bag and stapled the top so they can't tell what it is. These prizes range from little stuffed animals, to a couple of army men to penny coin rollers, to little wind up toys, etc...Little packages of things I purchase from the dollar store and split up or buy in assortment bags when my sister and I go thrift store shopping twice a year. A lot of things I get in grab bags at yard sales and estate sales or in the discount bins at Michael's craft stores or Target. It's a lot of fun! Some kids are very competitive and get serious about the game. One kid was really getting into the game and I said, "Lighten up, it's just a game, for heaven's sake!" He just smiled and replied "Heaven's got nothing to do with it!" He just happened to win the next round and was rewarded with some army men. He was happy as long as he won! 
     So, today is the last day of the semester. Once classes are over, I will input grades and be done until January 13th. Wow! I can't believe it will be 2015 soon. I'm not planning on posting over winter break but I want to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas (or happy whatever holiday you celebrate, even if it is just a "me" day.) I'm hoping to get a lot of rest and get some reading done. I'm attending a quilt retreat with my daughter, Jennifer, and my daughter in law, Joscelyn. We three, and 18 other quilters, mostly women, get together, away from home, and laugh and sew and eat and talk and sew and talk and eat and get the idea. 
     Enjoy the holidays and I will be back, rested and ready to go (let's hope the students are!) in January. Thank you for following my blog. You may want to check out my other blog at  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Good Job!

The posters are done! I wish I could post all of them for you to see. I am so proud of all my students and the work they accomplished this semester. There will be some F's, granted, but for the most part they have worked really hard and I think they are getting the idea that this is not going to be a fluff year. I am hoping, with that idea in mind, that they will rise to the occasion in the spring and do even better. We have a couple of harder units ahead of us, (Yes, I can hear the groans now) including a very intensive one on essay writing. Whatever their skills in writing were when they entered this class will have to be brought up to beginning college level. They will go kicking and screaming into that good night, I know, but it is what it has to be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 2 Poetry Posters

     I thought you might to see some of the artwork from today's presentations. The students are doing a great job on these posters, even though some of them admit to doing them in the last two days. And some of the kids are borrowing my glue sticks to secure items to their posters up until the time they present. But, most of them get it done and the results are wonderful. I can tell as they present them that they have put a lot of thought into the poem (through their analysis) and their choice of song. I really enjoy having these presentations as a final. It is an almost stress-less day for my students and myself, and best of all: easy to grade!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Poetry Poster Artwork

     Well, the first day of finals and my students were presenting their poetry posters as their final in my class. I always have some really good artwork and this year was no exception. The poster on top was done all in pencil. To the left of the big Death word is the list of literary devices and below that the analysis of the poem. On the flip side was the Shel Silverstein poem a foreign exchange student chose because it was lighthearted and happy. Both students did an excellent job and the artwork is wonderful. Another class presents tomorrow and then the last two on Thursday. Friday is a regular minimum day with the Winter Fair during lunch. More on that Friday. I know I will have some more good artwork to show you tomorrow. My only regret is that, because I have so many more students now, (135+/- instead of 65+/-) I do not have the wall space in my class room to display them all. Maybe I will rotate them for the next couple of months so no one feels left out. Oh, and the good news, because the rubric to grade these is fairly forgiving, the lowest grade earned today was 87/100. Hoping that will increase the grade averages for the semester.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter at Last

      Winter is here at last. Took it long enough. Most of the kids are complaining of the cold today. We rarely get snow on the Central Cost of California. But the temperature is 51* right now and there is a blustery breeze with a threat of 2 days of rain.
      Today is the first day of Finals week. A regular day, (if you can call any day with teenagers a regular day.) But a regular schedule at least. Tomorrow we start actual finals. My classes are presenting poetry posters. As with any project I have many, many who have waited until the last minute to do them. So we will see what tomorrow brings. These posters will also be some of the students last opportunity to pass the class, even though it may only be with a low D. I have eternal hope that they will step up to the plate and get it done, even at the last minute. 

Friday, December 12, 2014


    Today I had a student inform me that the only reason he's going to stay in school is because he wants to have a quote in the yearbook when he's a senior. 
Here's what he wants to have under his senior picture:
"You can catch flies with honey but you can catch more honeys being fly." A.C. (I told him I would give him credit!)
Kind of corny but he is very proud of his quote.
I told him, "Whatever it takes!"
It's been a really long week. Next week is Finals week. Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smiley Face

I was met with this on my board today. It made me smile and it's not even Friday! I am amazed that these kids, for the most part, still actually like me. I rail at them and judge their work and encourage them endlessly to do better. They can be better. I know it and when I see something like this I know they know it too.
Oh, I'm sure I have the opposite effect on some of the kids. Two years into teaching I had a death threat on my board. There were 6 possible suspects. The young man that finally was accused of the incident, I believe, was not the guilty party. But I think his friends threw him under the bus, so to speak, and he took the rap because he was afraid of being shunned. When he confessed there were a lot of kids, his friends included, that gave him a hard time. I don't think Administration handled it too well and his parents eventually requested he be transferred to another high school in the district. 
I think, for the most part, that students like teachers that make rules and stick to them. All children like boundaries, even though they all insist they yearn to be free. I am constantly putting up boundaries for my students. Difficult assignments, defined due dates, no excuses. I am always telling them they are not living up to their potential. They can do better. They have to be better prepared. And even though I have not set out to be liked, it seems I still am.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Another Lesson

     Well, again today I learned something new from my students. I learned all about dabbing. According to Urban Dictionary: "Dabbing. To press a piece of cannabis extract known as Butane Hash Oil against a heated surface of an oil rig pipe and inhale the smoke." Of course they all knew about it, and I imagine some of them have tried it but I think more of them just like to talk about it so make their friends think they're cool, or whatever the vernacular is these days. So I decided to do a little research on the topic because you never know if what they tell you is true or not. It depends on where they get their information. In my research I even found that there were rules of etiquette for dabbing. Here are a few of the highlights:
1. Full Disclosure
Before smoking with a new dabber, ask them if they smoke weed every day. You want to make sure this is a pleasant experience for all parties involved, and you certainly don't want someone flipping out, passing out or vomiting all over the room.
2. Ladies First
We are stoners, not savages.
3. Keep It Clean
Wipe your dab tool clean every time you use it (alcohol wipes work great).
4. No Freeloading
Sharing is caring, but don’t be a mooch -- dabs are expensive.
5. No Manhandling
Don’t touch another person’s dabs with your hands unless you ask for permission -- this is how you transfer things like fingerprints and grease. Plus, if the concentrate is not stable, you’ll end up with it on your hands instead of in your rig. No bueno.
6. Know Your Limitations
Dab responsibly and remember, drooling is not sexy.
     I had to laugh, especially at #2 and #6. and #1; how considerate.
     Always something new to learn in high school.
Oh, by the way...all my students swore they had never tried it.
Yeah. Right.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A New Look

Not me by the way...but close in style :)
     It's odd what my students talk to me about. This last weekend I decided it was time to get my hair re-permed. It had been about 4 months.
     So, Monday when I came into class quite a few students noticed that I had done something to my hair, many of them couldn't tell exactly what, (makes you wonder just how much they pay attention to anything...) and some of them didn't notice at all, or if they did they didn't say anything. And some said they liked it (mostly boys, some girls.)
     One young man was looking at me with a quizzical face.
Him: "What did you do to your hair?"
Me: "I got a perm in it."
Him: "Is that what makes it curly?"
Me: "Yes."
Him: "So. It's going to be like that all the time now?" (My thought: Is this a problem?)
Me: "Well, it may not be quite so curly after I wash it."
Him: "When are you going to do that?" (My thought: Does he want me to do it quickly?)
Me: "Well, once you have the perm it is recommended you not wash it for three days."
Me: "No. You can shower. You just can't get the hair wet."
Him: "How can you do that?"
At this point I decide he didn't have any women in his household, but I don't know if that's true.
Me: "I just wrap a towel around my head so my hair doesn't get wet."
Him: "Hey!" He said with a look of epiphany on his face, "The next time you go to a motel you can get one of those plastic things for your hair."
Me: "You mean a shower cap?"
Him: "Yeah, whatever they're called. And you wouldn't even have to steal it. They're free!"
He never said if he liked it or not.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Good Deeds

Starting last week the kids from the ASB have been at the gates of the school ringing the bell for the Salvation Army and collecting money in the red buckets. This is the first year they have done this and I think it is a great idea. I don't know how many kids donate but I think it is a worthwhile attempt. This year our school has had much more involvement in our community. I thought it was funny that the boys were more shy than the girls. I couldn't get the one to come out from behind the pole (like that was really going to hide him!)
     We are in the last week before finals. I am trying to get everything into the grade book. I finally got some kids, in the last class I graded, that earned an "A" on their Works Cited assignment. Three of them, actually! And funny thing, even though I offer help every lunch to every student (I announce it in class over and over again) these were the kids that actually CAME AND GOT HELP. Wow! Imagine that! And don't think I'm not going to point THAT out when I return the papers tomorrow!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Under Pressure

Normally Fridays are good days. I'm not quite sure why today was not a good day. All my kids were as quiet as my 2nd period class (which are quiet every day because I think their brains are not awake yet.) So, this was kind of strange. Even my rowdy 6th period was quiet. Some of them actually acted sullen. The only thing I can imagine this mood springing from is pressure. 
There is one week until finals week. In my class alone my students have four things going on that they are having to concentrate on: Reading logs are due the first of the week. The 5 most recent journals will be added to the grade book on Tuesday. They have a poem they are obligated to memorize and recite on Friday and then they have a poetry poster with analysis and artwork due for a final. All this in addition to anything else they have coming due in their other 5 classes. They will be fine if they prioritize their workload. But I wouldn't count on these teenage brains excelling at that. 
I finished grading their final Works Cited papers today. Even after many of them attempted the assignment 3 times the grades were less than stellar. The highest paper was an 89/100. But most of them ran in the 60's/100.
But I couldn't tell them that today.
I need to post grades to let them know where they stand.
Maybe it will light a spark in them to want to do better. 
Maybe Monday they will be in a better mood. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Brain Trouble

     O.K. I'll admit it. I pushed the limits of the teenage brain today. The first thing I hit each of them with was a Shel Silverstein poem that they have to memorize by next Friday. Each student got a different poem. You should have heard the groans. Then, after I explained the reason why we memorize poems, I handed out my worksheet on Synesthesia. For those of you who aren't familiar with that term, it is the study of the crossing of the senses. The worksheet asks them 65 questions like "What color is noise?" "What bell sound does purple make?" " What does violence taste like?"
     They looked at me like I was crazy. But this worksheet gives them the experience of "thinking outside the box." And this all rolls back to analyzing poetry. I tell the kids they have to dig to get the meaning. They have to really think. They have to be willing to let go of their brains' default button. They have to be fearless and plunge over the cliff and risk the unknown. They must be brave and secure in the knowledge that there are no wrong answers, but they have to get an answer. "Trust your instincts!" I tell them. "You can do it!"
     Silence. Heads are down looking at their papers; pencils poised.
     And quietly from the second row, "Mrs. Nelson, my head hurts."
     "Good." I say. "Then I'm doing my job."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bob Marley Knows All

     I have been teaching high school for 8 years now. In all that time almost every teenager I know has had this fascination with marijuana. It permeates almost everything they do. Each year I let my students choose a topic for their persuasive essay. If I didn't limit the number to 2 on each subject I would end up with more than a dozen, from each class mind you, about the benefits of legalizing marijuana. Currently we are in the middle of a poetry unit. I give them the task of going out on the Internet and finding a poem that "speaks to them" and bring it to class in order to spend some time analyzing it. And there it is again. One of the students found a poem written by Bob Marley about how smoking pot is better than drinking alcohol. Silly me. I wanted to know why this poem spoke to this child.

Yesterday I offered the kids paper towels when they
came in from the rain. I found this tacked on my bulletin
board this morning.
Me: "So, what is Mr. Marley trying to say to you?" Him: "That weed is better than liquor."        Me: "What do you think about that?" Him: "Well it is, don't you know. I mean, you can get in a serious accident if you drive after you drink." Me: "Can't you get in an accident after you smoke weed?" Him: "Nah. When you smoke weed all you do is sit around at home and watch T.V. and eat a bunch of food; you know, the munchies. You can't get in an accident that way. You smoke weed at home. You stay home. Driving would ruin the buzz!"

After shooting the other kid a withering look I asked the original "him" if he thought that was an appropriate poem to use for this assignment. He said he liked it and thought it had a good universal theme. And again; I just had to ask, "And what would that universal theme be?" Him: "Weed makes more peace in the world."
At this point, I'm not sure he gets the concept.

Another him sitting near by: "Dude! You are my hero!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's Raining and Universal Theme

      It's finally raining! This is an exciting event in California because we are in the middle of a drought. As every teacher can tell you though, weather brings out the unusual in a child, especially teenagers.
     Today we were talking about Universal Themes in literature and especially poetry. Once we defined the word universal we got into the "themes" end of it. Most students don't have trouble coming up with the normal themes about experiences everyone in the world has: Love, hate, death, music, food/eating, communication. We were in a discussion as I stood at the board and wrote the thoughts the students threw out and I kept tossing out experiences to get them to think of more and more examples.
So, I asked the question: "What does everybody have two of?"
From the side of the room, out of the blue, one guy yells:"Nipples!"
And that, folks, was when I lost the room. Doesn't happen very often and when it does there's just no getting it back, at least for a time. 
Just to let you know, the answer I was going for was "parents."

Monday, December 1, 2014

There's Always One

     Welcome back from Thanksgiving vacation! I had a nice relaxing week off and now I am ready to really focus on getting this unit finished and grading done for the end of the semester. With that end in mind, I decide to assign the next big project today so that my students would have plenty of time to work on it. I do not give tests but for this unit this project will count as their final test grade so it is important. In the next two weeks they will have to create a Poetry Poster and then during the final period they will present their poem and poster to the class. The requirements for this poster are as follows: It must include artwork, the poem chosen, notation of literary devices and universal theme. It must be presented to the class and the student must choose a piece of music they think fits the poem's theme or mood. I pointed to the date of the final on the board.
     It's really not a difficult assignment. I let the lids choose their own poem. I show them examples of previous years' posters. The art work can be original or they can collage or have someone else do the artwork.
     And I go over in detail the final schedule and how they will present their poem. Then I go over the effect this final poster project will have on their final grades, and how we should be able to get through all of them the day of the final because the periods are going to be 110 minutes. 
There is a theme going here...
After about a half hour of discussion, (loosely referred to, actually more me just talking) I ask, "Any questions?"
For the most part I got questions asking me if they could take a snapshot of the board so they had all the instructions.
"So," I said, "Is everybody clear on the assignment?" (Because if you don't ask in a couple of different ways some kids won't ask questions.)
And then I wait...
Hand goes up at the back of the class.
"Yes? You have a question?"
A young man asks, "Are we going to do anything the day of the final?"
I give him my you've-got-to-be-kidding look.
I point to the board, (again!) but was saved the explanation when much of the rest of the class piped up and clued him in.
"Oh. Sorry." he said. (Although he didn't look sorry; more annoyed that the other kids were giving him a bad time.)
Be afraid...they have now learned to sleep with their eyes open.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Conversation #1 - I heard was one boy telling another boy about a turkey he saw and how he would like to take it and keep it in his back yard to save it from being eaten.
Conversation #2  
Him: "I can't stand it when she talks to other guys!"
Her: "If you had half a brain, she wouldn't have to talk to other guys."
Him: "That's not right! She talks to those other guys about stuff she doesn't talk to me about."
Her: "Because you don't care what she thinks."
Him: "That's no reason for her to cheat on me."
Her: "Talking is not cheating."
Him: "Yes it is! It means she wants to be around someone else. They might as well go out on a date!"
Her: "Well, if you cared, she would talk to you. You just don't care."
Him: "It takes too much time to care!"
Her: "You're an idiot!"
So ended the conversation. The girl walked away and left the guy standing with his mouth open and a look on his face that said he really didn't get it.
Conversation #3
"What are we going to do to today, Mrs. Nelson?"
"We're going to do SSR."
"What else?"
"Oh, I don't know. Depends on how I feel."
"Why does everything depend on how you feel?"
"Because it's my kingdom and my rules!"
Conversation #4
"Mrs. Nelson, can you look over my Works Cited before I hand it in?"
"Why are the top 4 citations in bold?"
"The computer did that."
"No it didn't."
"I put new ink in it."
"The computer did not do that. You did it. A computer will only do what you tell it to do."
"Not mine. It does what it wants to all the time!"
"Fix it."
I handed the paper back to him and he walked away muttering something about his computer having an alien in it.
So, next week we have the entire week off for Thanksgiving break. I will be busy with family and some home projects. I will be back on December 1st. I hope all reading this blog have a wonderful and restful holiday!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Door Decorating Contest

       This is the door banner my 5th period class created for a door decorating contest that ended today. It was tied in with the March of Dimes fundraiser (but I never quite figured out the connection...but it doesn't matter!) We haven't found out who won yet. They worked on it several days. It had to be colorful, have Sammy the Saint on it and include the school motto: Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve. I especially like the border of handprints. And, it doesn't show in the picture, but they all signed it. The Sammy and the FFA logo (above the Boomba Hey! which is a traditional yell we use at rallies) were hand drawn and at the bottom there is a hand-drawn tree; the branches are all the clubs and organizations the students can join on campus. 
It's not all study, study, study in high school. Every once in a while you have to let the kids play. If they win the contest they will get a free pizza party. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting It

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
by Robert Frost
     We are analyzing poetry today. One of the easiest poems to do this with is "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. First we learn about the rhyme scheme of the poem, (the first easy task.) Secondly we clap out the stanzas while reading the poem out loud, so they get the feel of the poem. I then have them close their eyes and listen while I clap out the poem without words. I ask them, "What do you hear?" and to my pleasure they opened up their eyes and shouted, "Horses!" "Yes!" I say, smiling.
     So then I explain to them that a lot of people analyze poems and other pieces of literature but, it is always open for interpretation. There are no right and/or wrong answers. And everybody will approach it from a different path, depending on their knowledge of vocabulary, other works of literature they have read and life experiences. My students like the idea of being able to decide for themselves what a piece of writing means.
     We go line by line and discuss what they think is the meaning of the poem. Another reason I chose this poem is because of the short length and powerful message. By the end of the period they are amazed at the insight they have into this poem. And there is always the triumphant yell of, "It's about death!" followed by murmurs of agreement from the rest of the class. I love it when kids "GET IT." And then the bell rings and I get to look forward to having the experience all over again in the next period.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cookie Day

     Since yesterday was such a blah day I decided to treat the kids to cookies today. Not all the periods, mind you, just one. I found a sale at Vons; 50 count package for $5.  Since I have 23 kids in 7th period I decide they would be the pick of the day and everyone could have 2. They were pumpkin chocolate chip. They smelled good. The kids said they were good. It seemed to energize them, which they need by the end of the day. We were working on "alliteration" essays. We are learning all the Literary Devices and alliteration is a biggie. For those of you that don't know what alliteration is here's the definition: The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or accented syllables. Most people know alliteration rhymes like "Susie sell sea shells by the seashore" or "How much wood would a Woodchuck chuck?" So we listen to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (He was such a fine writer. Too bad he never got much recognition in his lifetime) and then I have them write their own alliteration essay. Oh, they don't get to choose their sound. I randomly hand out letters of the alphabet and they have to use the sounds from those letters. Dictionaries help.
     I have gotten some pretty funny essays over the years. Some kids find this easier than others. I have noticed that the creative students fly through this exercise, while the sports minded have more difficulty. But with a little work eventually they all get going and are able to write me a half page or so in the 25 minutes I give them.
***Update on the Works Cited Assignment: I have been excited by the fact that, so far, 6 students have come in search of my help. I am hoping that by Friday I will have at least that many more.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Again

     Yep. That's the way I feel today. It's a Monday. We had an "early out" day today so all my classes were 30 minutes long. I have been feeling sick for the past 5 days. I think I have a cold but it is not turning into one of those rancid big deals like it should. It started off with a sore throat and did a little buying of real estate in my sinuses. But it has not gotten worse. I'm just so tired and there's this little scratch, no, raw feeling in my throat that just won't go away. I cough a little bit but there isn't anything there. A dry cough that doesn't make my throat or my mood any better. And sucking on candy didn't help. At least if it was one of those big ugly colds I would be able to feel somewhat justified in being tired and cranky.
     I'm sure my students loved me today. Cranky. I returned the Works Cited lesson they handed in on the 7th. I told them what they had to do for the final turn-in on Friday. There were moans. There were shocked expressions. There was denial. A lot of denial. A couple of students said "What?" Some just laid their heads on their desks. This is the do-or-die assignment. If they fail this task, and don't have anything better than a D already in my class, (remember, I had 59 F's at progress time) they will fail the semester and have to take the class over again; at least this semester of it.
     I saw that blah look on their faces as they walked out the door. "Well," I thought, "I know how they feel." I'm hoping for a better day tomorrow.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Revisiting Works Cited

Here I am again today, grading, or rather editing the students' second attempt at their Works Cited page. I originally gave them the assignment to produce a Works Cited page with 13 different citations on it. I chose the 13 items with the idea that they would be the ones they would probably use the most. So: a book with one author, a book with 2 authors, an item from an encyclopedia, an article from a newspaper, an article from a magazine, an advertisement, a cartoon, a map, a song from a CD, a movie, a piece of information from the web, a personal interview, and last but not least; a letter to the editor. I give this assignment every year but this year I decided to do it a little differently. I gave them the assignment and went to the computer lab, for 3 days, to teach them how to format the paper itself and give them an opportunity to get started on the assignment. I gave them a due date a month away. Then I edited (I marked every single error and corrected them) and handed them back and gave them 2 weeks to fix them and hand them back in. Now, here I sit today with my speedy grading method: I mark the beginning of each citation, with a highlighter, where there is a mistake. This time they have to figure out what's wrong and fix it. They will have two weeks to get them corrected and handed back in for the final grade. We'll see how that goes!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New stuff!

      Well, look what showed up during 3rd period today! I received a new computer (I didn't even know I was near the top of the list for one.) It has a wireless keyboard and mouse and, as you may or may not have noticed, has no box. The huge monitor (22" diagonal, if that's how you measure them) just sits on my desk freeing up all kinds of space. And the computer tech was able to transfer all my files in about 5 minutes, so I didn't have any down time. This was a nice surprise...and it's not even my birthday! I was beginning to realize just how slow my old computer was, but you know, you adapt, and then after a while it seems perfectly normal.
     In other news today: it's raining! YAY! But almost half of the kids didn't know the rain was coming so they came to school without coats or sweatshirts. I love the rain! #1 because it means winter is coming. #2 We need the rain to make our land green again (I am so sick of water conservation.) The motto in Santa Barbara: Gold is the new green (of course they are talking about the color of dead lawns :{  )
     And the final note of the day: I have a cold. Its not too bad yet and I am hoping it doesn't get too bad. I have not had a full-on cold in over two years! Many teachers get colds all the time but I am very strict about my personal space in the class room. I don't allow students to use my phone or my computers unless it is unavoidable and they rarely have a reason to come into my space behind the desk. I also have a large bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk and Kleenex boxes (yes, I buy them myself) spread around the room. And teaching teenagers is very different than teaching elementary kids that don't always have the knowledge to cover their mouths and sneeze into their arms, or at least a Kleenex. Usually, they are self conscious about blowing their nose and they ask to step out onto the ramp.  Well, this week has flown by. Tomorrow is Friday, which is good because then I'll have the weekend to rest up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Professional Development

     Today was spent at Pioneer Valley High School in Professional Development. It was structured so that all the 11th grade teachers, from the 3 comprehensive high schools, could get together and work on some district and grade level objectives. It was run by the people from Pivot Learning who have been helping us merge into the Common Core Standards. Hired by the District office, they have been with us, and advising us, for two years now as we fully immerse ourselves in the Common Core.
     All day today, from 8:15 to 3:00 we sat in a computer lab and listened to ideas and had planning strategy sessions. And there will be another Professional Development day in February to continue the conversations and see how we are doing. Today we chose our 5 Power Standards. These are the 5 Common Core Standards that the entire district will implement and focus on in the 11th and 12th grade. Well, there really isn't a plan for 12th, but that is how the standards are divided. 
     Once we did that, as a whole group, we split into our school groups and began the task of tailoring a curriculum map for American Literature. A Curriculum Map is just what it sounds like: a map of the school year in weeks. On this map we decide the units to be taught during the school year. 11th grade Literature class is a little different because it is taught with respect to a timeline. We begin with the 1600's and work our way through the years to the mid 20th Century, reading literature representative of each major period. We don't have a lot of space to change things up but we can decide how we want to teach each section and where we want to put each of the standards. That is what we attempted to do today, although we ran out of time and will have to continue to work on it on collaboration days and in department meetings.
     I don't enjoy sitting in meetings all day. I would rather be with my students. They had a sub today and their counselors came in and discussed with them what they would need to prep themselves for the work of the senior year. Deadlines to apply for financial aid, scholarships and college applications. I think they were also talking to them about graduation requirements and letting them go over their individual transcripts. I hope they got a lot of information. I hope they listened.
     So, Monday and Tuesday we had off for Veterans Day. Today I was gone for Professional development. Thursday and Friday we are watching The Fall of the House of Usher movie. Then I have one full week until Thanksgiving break where I have scheduled to teach them the rest of the 8 or 9 Literary Devices they will need to complete the project for this unit which needs to end by Winter Break. It's a lot of work to be done. I'll keep you posted as to how that goes. Wish me luck!  

Friday, November 7, 2014


   We have been listening to the "Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe this last week. I teach this story for three reasons: #1 it is a good representation of the writing style from the middle 1800's, #2 Poe is a great American story teller (after all, this is an American Literature class) and #3 it is awash with the literary device of "Single Effect." That is words, phrases and sentences used by an author to create an atmosphere. In Poe's case he creates a dark, depressing atmosphere. So while we listen and read along to this story, I have my students take a 3 x 5 card and write down all the words that Poe uses to place the reader in the desired mood. 
     Most students simply take the card and either make bulleted lists going down the card on front and back or just list the words on the lines separating them with commas. Most fill up a card; some fill up two or three cards. and then we have the artist among us that fill out the card as above. He did this on the front and back of the card, which as I look at it, in and of itself creates an atmosphere of chaos.
     Poe never did become rich from his writing. As a matter of fact, he sold his famous poem "The Raven" for $14. And he died of an unknown cause, in the streets, after having been missing for several days, wearing someone else's clothes. 
     I think Poe would enjoy the way this student treated his words.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Appropriately Attired

     This is the poster that hangs on my door that I see every morning. There is one just like it on almost every other class room door on campus. Last year when we were trying to make students adhere to the dress code, the administration sent out these posters in an attempt to let the students know that their baggy pant attire was not appreciated. 
     Several years ago, in a attempt to limit gang related clothing, we outlawed baseball caps with any logo on the except the school's "Saints." Then we decided to ban sport team jerseys. These two items were heavily used by the gangs in town to identify their members. Unfortunately, we can ban as many items of clothing as we want to and the gangs just change to wearing gloves (we outlawed them 6 years ago) or carrying different colored lanyards, wearing a certain color socks or a certain type of shoes.           
     Anyway, last year we decided to attack the issue of baggy pants. It is a fashion statement that has been around for far too long now. I don't understand the appeal. To me it looks like someone is wearing a full diaper. 
     I think either the posters are having an effect or maybe just, finally, the fashion is changing, Whatever the case, we see very few baggy pants on campus. I think it has helped that this year the weather has been so warm. A lot of boys are wearing cargo shorts and they don't fit the same way. We are also seeing a lot more skinny jeans which are not worn low. We still have some hold outs; some die-hards with the bags, but hopefully by the end of this year we will be able to remove the signs because it will no longer be an issue. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


     Well, as you can see the subject for today is "Candy." You may be thinking, "What does candy have to do with high school, classes or teaching?" Candy doesn't play a huge role in my classes but it does have a very definite role. When I started my second term of student teaching, I decided that I would keep a basket of candy on my desk. The class I was teaching was seniors and they loved it. Most would just get one piece a day when they came it. I bought those big bags from Costco and it took me almost 2 months to go through one. So it wasn't a big outlay of money. 
     The next year when I got my first contract I kept candy in my room and established the rule that if a student came across a mistake I had made in a worksheet or on the board they would get a Tootsie Roll Pop. When my first observation was scheduled I decided I was not above bribery, so if the kids behaved and acted interested they would get a TRP the next day. It worked like a charm! (I still do this, reward them if they are good during observations, but I rarely tell them about it beforehand.) Obviously one could control students with food! So for the last 8 years I have always had TRP's in my room. Sometimes I hand them out random periods just for the heck of it because sometimes you just need a little candy. And even if I don't announce it, it seems like all my students, year after year, know about the "mistake rule." I've given out 3 pops this year already! Every once in a while some kid will come ask me for a TRP because they are hungry or have a sore throat. It's nice to be able to give them something. 
     Over the years I have supplemented with left over Halloween, Christmas and Easter candy, and tried red vines but the favorite seems to be the Tootsie Roll Pops. If I don't get carried away, I usually go through 2 boxes of 100 pops per year. It's a small price to pay, I think, for the little bit of joy it gives the kids.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


     Insanity. That's what it is. Insanity! We are trying to get through "The Fall of the House of Usher" that all my classes started yesterday. I had planned to do vocabulary (15 min) and then dive back into the short story. Tomorrow we are watching a documentary on Poe and I thought it would be nice to finish the story on Thursday. Well, that was the plan which started out well until I hit 4th period.
     When the final bell rang for 4th period I looked up from my desk, (hadn't paid much attention to kids coming in; I was trying to answer an email) and found 9 kids in attendance. Nine. Then I realized that this was the day the juniors, who had not passed the English part of the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) they took in 10th grade, were scheduled to take the test again. I had had a couple of people in my 2nd. period class out but that was not unusual, even on a regular day. Obviously a huge portion of my 4th period class were testing. So. Now what? I couldn't very well go into my curriculum for the day with only 9 kids. That would mean the other 14 would miss the reading and vocabulary work.
     I looked at the kids sitting in their desks. They looked back at me expectantly. From the corner of the room I heard this little voice say, "Movie?" Oh, what the heck! "Sure," I said.
     Now I have 4 periods up to date in reading and vocabulary and 1 period a day behind. Insanity? Welcome to my world.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box Unit

Scene from
"The Fall of the House of Usher"
   We are starting a new unit today. I call it my "Thinking Outside the Box Unit." It begins with the study of Edgar Allan Poe and his use of extreme literary devices. The first selection we read is "Fall of the House of Usher." Then we go on to read the "Raven" and another selection I haven't decided on yet (because I change it up every time I teach this unit.) Once we finish Poe we move on to poetry analysis, 6 Word Stories , 55 Word Essays, Synesthesia and finish up with Transcendentalism; working our way through the 1800's and into the 20th Century. And all along the way we learn the different literary devices. The unit culminates with the students creating a Poetry Poster where they have to chose a poem of their choice, analyze it for all the literary devices we have learned and present it to the class along with a piece of music they feel fits the Universal Theme of the poem. I love teaching this unit. It allows the kids to be creative and really learn that there are no right and wrong answers when it comes to analyzing literature. My past students have told me that it is one of the favorite units I teach. That's always good to hear. So, Dear Mr. Poe, start us off with a bang and capture the minds of these students! 

Friday, October 31, 2014


A doctor, leopard,
The Queen of Hearts (actually a guy)
and a deer!
Dr. Who (Danny) and
a Zombie (Zeke)
Well, it's Halloween. A lot of kids dressed up this year, more so than in past years. And there are some really good costumes! We have a minimum day today, not because of Halloween but because it is the end of the second progress grading period. and I'm glad it's Friday! I'm on my way out to buy some Kettle Corn at the Halloween Fair on campus. I hope most of my students have a good weekend. It is supposed to rain tonight for the first time in months. I just want them to stay safe on this crazy, spooky, holiday.

Minnie Mouse and Wednesday
from the Addam's Family
 (although I think the doll should be headless!)

Thursday, October 30, 2014


     I think a lot of people would be amazed at how many high school students have tattoos, or ink in the more popular term. The number of students with tats has grown substantially just since I started teaching 8 years ago. I have had many, many students with tattoos in my class so I think they are growing in popularity in this age group. And yes, I know, you question, "But how can they get a tattoo when they are underage?" Age doesn't seem to make a difference any more. 
     Many of the tattoos one sees around the school are done by ex prisoners. Usually an older brother or uncle of the students who learned their art while incarcerated. Other times the students get an older relative to go to the parlor to sign permission slips. One of the kids in my 3rd. period class recently got a new tattoo with his mother's name, on a ribbon, wound through two large roses. It was nicely done. But, again, it was done in just black ink, probably because colored ink is more expensive and the boys, especially, seem to think that colors are not manly. His uncle took him to get it and signed for him. I asked the student if his mother was mad. He said she had been in the beginning but she was glad it was her name and not some girlfriend's. 
     My kids have a wide variety of tats from "Family First" to "Mom" to their children's name (those that already have kids) to dates of a loved one's passing. And then there is the gang related ones like the "805" that crawled up the side of one kid's calf to his knee. He liked to wear shorts to show it off until administration made him start wearing high socks to cover it. 
     When I first started teaching I was a trifle shocked to see a tattoo on kids this young, (some are freshmen) but now it doesn't seem to bother me. The kids see it as art and a way to express themselves and we usually have a nice conversations about them. My students ask me if I have tattoos, or would I get one? I have flirted with the idea, but always shy away from it. Maybe someday...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


     As I walk around the campus every day I hear snippets of conversation between the students and their friends. And many of my students will either call out to me or stop and talk. So here are some of the things I've heard and talked about this week: "Hey! Mrs. Nelson! Wanna buy a phone? It only has one crack on the back!"
One boy to a girl: "What do you mean she doesn't want me to call her? Doesn't she know I'm the whole package?" (He was being serious!)
"Guess what, Mrs. Nelson, I just found out I'm pregnant!" (One of my former students, now a junior. She was excited!)
"Mrs. Nelson do you want to hear my new pick up line?" "Sure," I said, "I can hardly wait!" He says,"O.K. here it is. You walk up to a pretty girl, see, and say 'You're a 9 and I'm the 1 that will make you a 10.' " I couldn't help but laugh. "Cute," I said. He was very pleased with himself.
"It's been 3 days since I had a Coke. I'm dying!" (One girl walking to lunch with another girl.)
"You should have worn boots today, Mrs. Nelson, then you could have kicked his ass." One student talking about another student cutting up in class.
When I asked a student if he had completed his reading logs: "It's all a matter of perspective, Mrs. Nelson."
"Mrs. Nelson, do you want to sponsor my race car? Tires? They only cost $100 a piece. I'll put the name of your blog on my car!"
And the laugh of the day: On a walk to the library: "Look Mrs. Nelson, I can balance a book on my head!" I said, "Young ladies used to practice that to learn about poise." "Aw, I don't need that! I know all about boys!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Football vs Soccer

      Like almost every high school in the United States, we have a football team. We are proud of our football team. They try hard and I see them practicing every day. The coaches make them work, usually in full gear! But the sad thing is that we don't usually win many games. Part of the problem is that the Hispanic population in our school are not very big people. This serves as a big disadvantage, especially in the game of football.
     I have often wondered why we don't concentrate more on soccer in this school. Soccer is the national pastime in most of the South American countries where our students hail from. They are obsessed with soccer; the team, the players. I have many students stay home during the World Cup games, even if Mexico is not in the play offs.
     On any given Monday the talk about the classroom is intense about soccer! They argue back and forth and relate the best moments of the weekend's game, usually at full volume. And, we have some really excellent soccer players in this school. We have made it to the CIF Championships many times, but it is always just a footnote in the daily bulletin. It deserves more acclaim and recognition because it is something the kids on this campus really excel at. I don't know if it will ever change. Football has been the hallmark of the high school team games  for so long and soccer is relatively new. I just think it is a shame that we are missing out on the opportunity to showcase our student's talents.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Red Ribbon Week

     Today marked the start of Red Ribbon Week. This is a new celebration for our school. Most of the grade schools and junior highs do this but we decided to get on board this year and have our kids pledge themselves to a life without drugs. I think it is a great idea! The picture is of the ASB kids but many of the other kids, and teachers, also wore red today. Each day of this week they came up with a different motto for the day and activity to match. Monday was "Red Day": Wear red from head to toe. Tuesday will be "Drugs and I Don't Match Day" and students are supposed to wear mismatched shoes and socks! Wednesday will be "Give Drugs the Boot Day" when students will wear western attire, especially boots. Thursday will be "Turn Your back on Drugs Day" with the students wearing their clothes inside out or backwards. Friday will complete the week with "Drugs are Scary Day" as the students and staff dress in Halloween costumes and there is a contest during lunch. Before I taught at a high school I never realized how many activities are promoted to get the kids involved on a weekly basis. Something is always going on. We want our students to "own" their campus and all these activities help in that effort. When I was in high school we didn't have all these activities. We had "Pep Rallys" before the home games and we had student elections and Homecoming and Spring Formals. But it seems like we have something going on every week here in Santa Maria. The end of this week marks the end of the second progress grading period. I am hoping that my kids step up and do better than they did the last progress report. I'll keep you posted.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marijuana Socks

     Yesterday I talked about my shoes and how the students notice everything new about me. But today I want to talk about an alarming trend I have noticed about the students.
     Almost every day I see students with brightly colored socks. This morning, in 2nd period I had one boy wearing bright pink socks and one girl wearing bright lime green socks. In my 5th period class I had one kid wearing the stars and stripes of the American flag. (I always was taught that wearing or using the flag in any manner other than the intended use was disrespectful, but standards have relaxed and this tradition has sadly gone away.) Even with the issue of disrespect, I find those red, white and blue socks to be less offensive than the other footwear of choice: the socks with marijuana leaves printed on them.
     The first time I saw these, I was shocked. I do not live with my head in the sand so the socks themselves did not shock me. It was the fact that I had a student wear them to school. I asked him, "Are those what I think they are?" Maybe he didn't know what it was... I know. I'll wait while you have a good laugh...
"Yes," he said.
"Who bought those for you?"
"My mom."
"Does she know what that is?"
"I think so."
"O.K. even if she did know what that is, and she did buy them for you, why on earth would you think you could wear them to school? They're inappropriate."
"They match my shorts." He was wearing black and white plaid shorts.
I told him to take them off and put them back on inside out. That didn't work. Now he had black socks with white leaves on them! So I told him to just take them off and put them in his backpack.
"What? I can't ear shoes without socks!" he said.
"Lots of kids do."
"But my feet will get cold!"
"Too bad. We're in Santa Maria, not Alaska. Buck up!" (Remember...he was wearing shorts.)
With a disgruntled sigh he took off his socks and jammed them into his backpack.
"And you better not put them on again. I see you going to other classes every day. And don't wear them to school again!"
"Ah, Mrs. Nelson!"
A teenager's motto: Test the waters at all times. Maybe no one will notice.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


    The subject today is shoes. I only mention this because my students are so observant! They notice everything about me that changes. If I get a new hair style, when I get my nails done, if I choose new glasses. But the thing they notice most about me is my shoes.
     I wear Birkenstocks. I love Birkenstocks. I have been wearing them my entire teaching life (8 years.) A few years before I started teaching I had some issues and a small surgery (actually more of a procedure) on one foot and ever since them I have found comfort in Birkenstocks. I could be the poster child for them, or the spokesperson at the very least.
     I wear the standard sandals but I also have quite a collection of the shoes, everything from tartan plaid to burgundy polka dot. I have green ones with flowers on them. I have blue with a paisley print. I have a grey and pink plaid and I have black, brown, navy and tan solids and others. And the kids notice them. They ask me about them; how much they cost and where I get them. (Not that they want to wear them, of course; but they are interested.) I tell them they are way comfortable and worth every penny they cost. I would love the ones shown in the picture above; they are cool. and I would love to have a red plaid pair, which I saw while looking for the above picture.
     I guess I should be happy the kids are awake and interested in something... now if I could only get them to take as much notice of their school work...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


     This was me today. Yesterday I started to edit the Works Cited assignments. Today I continued to edit the 5 periods worth of work and I was almost done, by 6th period, working in the last of my 7th period's papers. I was feeling pretty good. I was happy! And then it happened...I started reading the citations on a student's paper and realized I had read them before. But there were no marks on the paper. I stopped and thought a minute and then it hit me: I had another paper with the same citations on it. Same incorrect formatting and everything! I started digging through my finished papers and found it in the 6th period pile. I took it out. Laid them side by side. Yep, Exact.      
     This happens to me every once in awhile. I catch students cheating. I HATE it (and I don't use that word too often, really hardly ever) when students do this. I become so mad. I really take it rather personally. How on earth do they think they can get away with this? Are they assuming I won't read the papers? Do they actually think I'm stupid; that there will be no repercussions? 
     So, I set them aside and move on. I'm putting off thinking about it. When BAM! Another exact copy of the paper appears before my eyes. Now I have 2 students in 7th period and one in 6th period (all young men, although that hardly matters, really) trying to cheat their way through an assignment. I can hardly believe it! I throw my pen to the desk and just sit there. The kids are still watching the movie The Crucible so it is dark in the room. I am surprised my fumes weren't lighting up the space. 
     I quickly grabbed my pad of sticky notes and wrote out "Lunch in my room, tomorrow. Be there!" and handed it to the perpetrator in 6th period. Then when the students filed in for 7th period I handed each of the offenders the same note. I could have taken those two out on the ramp and spoken with them then but I wanted time to cool down and I also wanted them all together. Tomorrow before lunch I will send each of them a reminder note. If they don't show they will get met with referrals as they come up the ramp. 
     I will not stand for cheating of any kind in my class room. One of these young men has had me before so he knows me well enough not to try this. At least I thought he did. I guess not. I am anxious to hear their excuse tomorrow. They may get referrals anyway, as a consequence of their actions. And I think I will have their counselors call home and inform their parents what they did. 
     What an end to a perfectly good day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


     Today my students are watching The Crucible, after having finished reading the play. With the new schedule it will take me three days to have the kids watch it, but it is a good movie and follows the play almost exactly. I am taking advantage of the three days to correct (edit) the recently-turned-in Works Cited assignments.
     Here's how that's going:
In the beginning: "Please make sure you format your citations correctly!"
               Then:  "Please format your citations correctly!"
     After a time:  "Please format citations correctly!"
               Soon:  "Format correctly."
               Then:   "Correct format."
                Now:  "Format!"
     I am through three classes of papers. The students have shared with each other about 1/2 of the citations. Unfortunately, the first person to do the citations, did them incorrectly :{ But I will edit them all, (my eyes are crossing from the strain) and hand them back and give them the second due date. They will redo these papers repeatedly until they get them right. Without this base of information, they cannot go on to do essays and PowerPoints, as both of those require citations and a Works Cited page/slide. and through all this I keep repeating, "Writing is a process." I hope they get the "process" before June!