Friday, August 29, 2014


     I assigned one of my favorite journals today. It is one of the few journals they cannot actually do in class because it takes being out of the class room. The prompt instructs them to spend a 1/2 hour sitting outside and making observations about what they see and hear and smell. Then they have to write about what they observed in the required journal format. Maybe even just sit on their front porch, seeing what's going on in their neighborhood. One student asked if he could go to the swapmeet and watch people. I told him it would be a great place for this. I have students go to the mall, local parks, one kid just happened to be going to Disneyland! Perfect!
     I had one student several years ago that sat in his mom's car while she went in a friend's house to drop off something. The police were driving by and saw him. After two passes they stopped and asked why he was just sitting there. He told them he was on assignment for Mrs. Nelson's class! They did not believe him and went and found his mom to verify his response. So now I tell my students to watch and listen but don't look like you're casing a joint or stalking someone! And, no, don't have the cops call me!

Thursday, August 28, 2014


     I learned a new word today. This is one of the interesting (and sometimes disturbing) part of being a high school teacher. So. Let me set the scene...
     On Tuesdays and Thursdays we do vocabulary work. The vocabulary program I am using this year calls for students to complete a paragraph made with sentence frames (sentences that are missing some words) using the vocabulary word of the week and original content (words they choose on their own.) The paragraph today was talking about how movies are so unrealistic when depicting teenagers. One sentence talked about how the movies usually try to stereotype teenagers like a cheerleader, an athlete, an AP (advanced placement) student, etc... It asked for an adjective (word to describe) each of these. For an AP student they came up with: know-it-all, nerd, smart guy. For the athlete they came up with: jock, bully (you could tell some kids have issues), power player, muscle man. For the cheerleader the kids came up with: blond, (which I thought was ironic because almost all the girls in our school are Hispanic and have dark hair, but I guess they are thinking of professional cheerleaders) bossy, stuck up, and then they shouted out "ratchet!"
     I am not afraid to ask the kids just what a word means to them (sometimes, like today, I regret that.) Fads and the teenage culture travels so quickly, one cannot possibly keep up. So, they told me what ratchet meant. It is definitely derogatory. A girl that wears too much makeup, is ugly, wears torn clothes that do not fit her well and has an attitude that she is a diva. This is the censored definition I discovered when I got home and looked it up on Google images! :{ Oh. My. I am far from a prude, but Oh. My. anyway.
     I have always said that one of the reasons I like teaching high school was because I learn a lot from teenagers. They have a totally different outlook on life. But, I must admit...they do have a grimy side to them. I want to believe that they never really call anybody this name...but high school has always been and always will be a reality based experience.  
Because I couldn't print a picture of a ratchet girl...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


          Today we had a surprise earthquake drill. (Actually, it wasn't a surprise to the staff. We get a calendar at the beginning of the year that gives us the day of these planned drills, unless of course it is like the fire drill we had, which turned out to be a false alarm, so we used it as one of our required drills.) But it is always a surprise for the students. I just love it when we have these drills. The Administration come over the P.A. system and announces, "We are having an earthquake. This is only a drill. This is only a drill. Please do not exit the buildings or classrooms. This is only a drill. Duck and cover. All students protect yourself . Position yourself under a desk and protect your head by putting your arms over your head." They tell us that we will not be evacuating because it is only a drill. Then the kids sit there for 2 minutes or so until they announce that the drill is over. The kids think this is so funny. I don't know if any one of them have actually been in a real earthquake, but the announcer's voice and manner make them laugh. And I don't know just how well the new desks would protect the students. As you can see from the picture, most of the students are too big to fit their whole body under a desk, (these are teenagers, you know) so I always tell them to fit their upper torso and head under as much as they can. I especially like the guy in the corner flashing a peace sign. In a real earthquake he would be buried under that pile of textbooks! I, of course, do not throw myself under my desk. I, being a born California girl, would head for the nearest doorway in the event of an earthquake. And considering all the stuff I keep under my desk, me, not being the smallest person in the world, might not fit. And then there would be the comedy show of watching me crawl out from under said desk! Talk about laughing! And besides, isn't it my duty to make sure everyone in my charge is protected? Maybe I'm setting a bad example. I don't know. So, now we have had a fire drill, an earthquake drill and the only thing we have left is the Lock-down Drill. I don't know when that is going to be; wasn't on the calendar. We practice these 3 drills at least 2X a year to make sure of our preparedness. I just hope if the real thing happens, all these drills will make the difference in the absence of casualties. Anyway, it was an interesting way to spend some of 5th period!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

     The most popular thing going on campus for the last two days has been the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Many of the teachers have called-out other teachers and, of course, all the Administrators of the 4 campuses challenged each other. I guess, since this is a challenge, it needs to be carried out in public so everyone involved on our campus has been doing it on our practice field during lunch.
     This is a picture of Suzanne Rocco (English Teacher) meeting the call out!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Heavy Sigh...

        This is how I feel today. Kind of green and kind of disgusted. The green comes from experiencing the first "early-out" of the school year. This is a day when the kids go to all the classes but the day is more like a minimum day. So all the periods and lunch are only 30 minutes long. I felt like I was in a revolving door all day. 26-28 new kids every period. I am not impressed with the new schedule. "Meh," as my son David would say.
     Today was also the first indicator of what my year was going to be like, as far as student effort. I was disappointed to say the least. For the past week, at least 2 times a period, I have barraged my students with the fact that they were going to have 5 reading logs due on Monday; today. 2 people in my first class had their reading logs done. I was hoping for just an early morning abnormality. Nope. Every single one of my classes had the same results, except for the last period of the day where I had 10 (out of 27) students hand in their reading logs, finished. Not a great result but considering the rest of the day, not as bad.
     So, they MADE me give them THE TALK. The I-can't-believe-I've-got-Juniors-that-can't-finish-simple-reading-logs (angry face) talk!!! I flat out told them that if this was what I had to look forward to, we were going to have serious issues. I won't know if I made an impression until next Monday (Tuesday, actually, because of the Labor Day holiday.) It's not that they don't mind me and do what I say, it is the general apathy towards education that makes me really mad. And the fact that they don't try. Frustration.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rally Day

Seniors at the Rally
     Today was the last day of Spirit Week. We always have a big "Welcome Back" rally to celebrate. Our gym is not large enough to hold our entire student population so we actually have two rallies. The picture to the left is of the Seniors at the first rally. You can tell if you look close that many of them are wearing grass skirts and you can see a beach ball in the air, (there were actually 7-8 of them.) The Friday of Spirit Week is color day. Freshmen wear green. Sophomores wear yellow and the Juniors wear blue. Seniors dress in Hawaiian outfits. 
We have a performance by the cheerleaders and the band and they take this opportunity to introduce the football team; the season starts tonight. We also do the "BOOMBA-HEY." This is a cheering (yelling) competition between the 4 classes. It starts between the Seniors and Juniors. One says BOOMBA; the others try to out-yell them with a HEY! Repeat: multiple times.The contest is to see which class can yell the loudest, therefore having the most spirit. Then the Sophomores and Freshmen try. The Seniors usually win but I thought the Freshmen had a pretty good chance this year due to the fact they are a HUGE class of 900 students. But the decision was that the Seniors won. This is an old tradition in this school; I don't know how far it dates back, but I'm remembering someone once told me it was from the 1950's.
     All the textbooks have been checked out. The Welcome Rally is over. Notebooks formatted. Monday the real work begins!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jersey Day (My husband said I should wear a cow costume!)

     Today is Jersey Day. This day, the 4th day of Spirit Week, is usually well received and a lot of kids wear either their own team jersey, (from one of the sports on campus) or one from their favorite professional team. Either way, it makes for a colorful campus.
     I spent 3 of my 5 periods in the library today having the kids do a Library Scavenger Hunt. They have to look up different kinds of books, notate what else besides books the campus library offers, introduce themselves to the librarians, talk about the last book they read and give a review, etc... It always amazes me just how much they DON'T know about the library. Many of the students have never been in the library except to check out their textbooks. This is why I created this assignment a couple of years ago. One of the items on the list is to have them find an article in an encyclopedia that begins with the letter "W" (a letter just picked by me, at random.) Very few of my students even know where in library to find an encyclopedia (reference section; no you may not check them out!) 
     In my 5th block one young man came up to me and asked me what a word on the assignment was. I looked at the word he was pointing to: encyclopedia. I explained what the books looked like and I pointed him in the right direction. I told him to go look at them and figure out what kind of book they were. He sauntered off and I saw him standing in front of the right section. A couple minutes went by and he came back to me. "Mrs. Nelson," he said with a very serious face. "Those books are like Google on paper!" "Exactly!" I said. Now he knows, and I got my laugh for the day!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

White Out Wednesday

      Today is "White Out Wednesday" of Spirit Week. Everybody is supposed to wear as mych white as possible. I am wearing a white skirt and white t-shirt. You won't see a picture of me though because I look horrible in white! The things you do to promote school spirit! Of course a lot of the kids will be sporting white. Black jeans with a white t-shirt is almost a uniform at our school, especially for the boys. I have the advantage of having the portable right across from the ASB class room, and they always get into Spirit Week (they sponsor it.) I'll see if I can get some pictures of the kids later today... Here you go. I especially like the girl to the far right that made a dress out of  white paper and wore it because she forgot.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Twin Day

Student twins
     Today was Twin Day at school; part of Spirit Week. Not as many kids dress as twins on this day as wear jammies on Pajama Day. After all, it takes more time to coordinate two matching outfits, especially since they only have a week of lead time. Most girls don't have the same clothes and many times, by the time they get to high school, most teenager authentic twins don't dress alike any more. But we did see some on campus. And some of the teachers get inspired also as you can see.

Mr. Salazar (left) & Mr. Korpella
I'm not sure how much "spirit" for the school this actually creates. I think that if we were a smaller school, we would have more spirit; feel more like a family, interact more and have more fun together. But it is what it is. So, the ASB (Associated Student Body) hosts spirit week at least once a year, sometimes twice. It is fun to walk out at lunch and look for the kids that participate. Many of the upper class-men already know it is coming and have planned accordingly. They usually have the maturity to participate and make fun of themselves. Most of the themes repeat each year but tomorrow we are having one that is new...stay tuned!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Pajama Day

      Today was the beginning of Spirit Week. This is an entire week devoted to building school spirit amongst the students and faculty. Today, Monday, was "Pajama Day." As you can see, the kids really get into this day. What could be better than rolling out of bed and going to school without having to change out of your pajamas? Quite a few of the teachers come in PJ's, too. It gives the school an air of fun. Some carried blankets all day, (it was in the high 70's today!) and many carried stuffed animals. I think the kids like it because it lets them revert back to a younger time; a time when they could lay around in their jammies all day and people just thought they were cute! There is more planned for Spirit Week. I will write about the days as they happen.
     My students are warming up to me. For the first week, everyone is very reserved and quiet; scoping me, and their other teachers, out and seeing what they might be able to get away with. What teachers wants what from them. But now, in the second week, they are allowing more of their personalities to show. I have quite a few class clowns. I have many that are planning on going into the military and most of the rest of them have their eyes set on college; at least the local junior college. We are almost done formatting those common notebooks. Then, the rest of this week, we will do some basic instruction in Reading Logs and Journals, pay a visit to the Library for a Scavenger Hunt and next Monday will start the real work.
     Complaint of the day: "Mrs. Nelson! He bit my backpack strap! That's just nasty!!"

Friday, August 15, 2014


     So, 6th period, we were just minding our own business, working diligently to get our common notebooks formatted and all of a sudden the fire alarm goes off. This was not a scheduled fire drill. It came in the last 5 minutes of the period. I told the kids to gather up all their stuff (we are not supposed to do that!) and follow me to the football field. My class is supposed to line up at the far end of the 10 yard line.
     We all made it. As we stood there we saw the fire trucks come with their sirens and flashing red lights, but it turned out to be a false alarm. 40 minutes of my curriculum life I'll never get back :{
     I'm glad it's Friday...It's been a long first week. Heavy sigh...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Common Notebooks

      Today my students started formatting those common notebooks I told you about. I get a selection of colors in the boxes of Walmart so the first thing I do is let them choose the color they want. Then they put a sticker on the front with their name and seat number. We open to the first page and start the table of contents. Once we have the header on the first page, I have them stop and number the rest of the pages in the book to number 138. Then they return to the first page and copy all the information you see to the right, into their book. The reading logs go until week 36 and then there are journals, chapter summaries, literary terms, class/unit notes, fill the book's pages. Other than warning them to not lose the notebook (they have to recreate it all if they do!) I really don't have much else to do. I start up my iPod, so the room is not quiet, and answer emails, take attendance, stroll the room seeing if they are doing it right. It is always a boring time for me but oh, so necessary! When we were on the block schedule, it usually took my students 2-3 days to finish formatting the entire book. Now I have planned for four days. I hope it won't take longer than that. I can only stand so much boredom!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

15 Minutes of Fame

 At the beginning of every school year I always have my students fill out a 3x5 card answering some questions. I told you about the young man who didn't want to remember his last year's English teacher. Today I was going through the questions I had them ask me on the back of the cards. I told them they could ask me 3 questions about the class or about me or about anything really, and I would attempt to answer them. One of the items they must tell me about on the front of their card is their "15 minutes of fame." This could be an award at the fair, a personal goal they met, something heroic they did (one kid one year had lived through a serious stabbing at a party!) Many kids have trouble thinking of something to write. Sadly they have never had anyone tell them they were exceptional at anything. I always like to give them 3 examples from my life; 3 "15 minutes of fame." #1~ I graduated high school at the end of my Junior year. #2~ I attended 15 schools before I graduated high school (I was a Navy brat.) #3~ From the time I started kindergarten to the time I graduated high school I never got anything but A's on all my report cards. The kids are amazed. Someone usually asks me "How did you do that?" My response always is, "I'm just THAT smart!"
      So, today, I'm up in front of the class and reading questions and answering them. Usually I get many that are the same: Do you have children? How long have you been married? How old are you? Will we have lots of homework? One kid asked me if I was a fan of Doctor Who.
     In my 4th period class, though, I came upon one that made me laugh out loud. It read: "If you were so smart as a teenager, how come you became a teacher?"
     Hmmmm... :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Day

Today is the first day of school. My students will all come today, hopefully. That is if they get up on time, plan to come today or are back from vacation. School is not always high on the priority list for teenagers.
     Above are the basic class rules I post on my board at the beginning of the year. We talk about them the first day along with the "Come-to-Jesus" speech. No, this is not a religious discussion. It is me being overly adamant about how I will enforce the rules and how this year will be difficult. Get used to it. I deliver this speech with the fervor of a Southern Baptist Minister; hence the name. We usually have another "Come-to-Jesus" as they slack off toward the end of the grading period. At least that has been my experience in years past. We will see this year.
     I had a full class this morning in my 1st. period. That's a good sign. And I have 6 kids, so far, that I have had for previous grades. They already know I am not as hard-nosed as I let on the first day, so it is very, very important that I get my message across.
     Funny of the day (so far): I have students fill out a 3x5 card;answering some basic questions. One of the questions is "What English teacher did you have last year?" One kid told me he didn't know. "I never liked her, so I showed her...I never learned her name." I told him he will remember me, good or bad; he will remember me.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer's End

 Today is the last day of the summer for me. Tomorrow morning begins the new school year. I will get up at 5:30, like I do every school day, and proceed about my day until the final bell rings at 2:55. Tomorrow there is an "all day" Professional Development meeting, but they usually let us go shortly after a staff meeting, so that we can get to do last minute chores to get ready for the students on Tuesday. I usually end up spending most of the day in my room, even though I spent many hours there one day last week. Even though they don't have to be there until Tuesday,the kids can come to school and get their schedules on Monday. Many times students will wander by looking for their classes. If they have had me before they come in to say hi. We talk about the summer or what they've been up to if they graduated. If they haven't had me before, they will usually just kind of drift by, looking in my windows, and leave the big hello until Tuesday. Really, you don't want to rush the big, first hello. It might make one seem too eager to end a summer of endless video games with their little brothers/sisters and look like they would rather be in school again. Not cool! But many times, on this first-day-before-the-first-day, I will meet parents who come to the school with their children. Usually they are the students that have medical issues, are somewhat fragile, and the parents want to make sure everybody on staff is on the same page. The easiest way to do this, even though most of the kids don't like them to, is for the parents to come and meet the teachers.
     So, today I am downloading some new songs on my iPod to play in my classroom before and after the bell, trying to find time to sit and finish the novel I'm reading (just 2 more chapters) and clear my head; psych myself up for tomorrow. I don't know why this day is always riddled with anxiety, but it is. It's not like this is my first year teaching, and yet the feeling exists. It will be gone by tomorrow afternoon when I will look around my class room, like I have for the 8th year now and think, "I'm ready. Bring it on!"

Saturday, August 9, 2014


     Every year I catch students writing on desks. They love to draw and doodle and tag anything that is a flat surface. I usually tell them to immediately erase what they have done, but I don't always catch the culprit and they are just enhancing what others have done before them. I tell the students that if they must draw or doodle or whatever, they can always ask me for some printer paper or go and get some paper from the unlimited supply of notebook paper I have in my room. Many kids draw when we are listening to stories or reading books. I usually don't mind. In my experience, most of the kids that doodle while they are listening to something have a very good idea what's going on in the story and when asked about different aspects of the plot or characters, usually have some great insights. I do draw the line (pun intended) at them drawing while I lecture and they are supposed to be taking notes. And I do frown on them drawing on themselves or each other. But this year I am starting out the year with those new desks I told you about. I do not want them drawn on. I do not want gum on the underneath of them. I would like them to look nice for a year, or two maybe. So this notice will be greeting the kids on the first day of school; written large on the central whiteboard. You will notice that it gives the consequences for inappropriate behavior. They will have to give up what they treasure most: free time. And the washing of the windows is just an added benefit for the teachers around me. I have found that students behave better when faced with clear and absolute consequences...and a bottle of Windex.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Paper Stars

     I wrote yesterday that one of the things I had to do to get my class room ready was to hang a paper star. Well, here are my paper stars. I have hung a new one at the beginning of every school year. As you can see, this year is my 8th year teaching. Below the stars are the baskets where the students keep their common notebooks (by seat number 1-25) and the colored, flats bins to the left of each basket where the kids turn in their work. Once the work is graded I file it in a filing cabinet (that they have access to) by class. 
     I started this system the second year I taught. The first year I would grade papers and then hand them back to the kids. They, in turn, would deposit them in the trashcan on their way out the door. It broke my tender teacher heart! And I discovered that if I was called for a parent/teacher conference, I didn't have any students' work to show the parents. Hmmmm. so, I came up with this idea, about not handing work back. Or if I do hand something back, because it is important and I KNOW they want to read and absorb my comments, (again, I know, livin' in a dream world) I recollect it and file it in the filing cabinet. It is a good system. At the beginning of every new year I go through the filing cabinet and recycle all the papers in one fell swoop.
     The paper stars came about when my daughter, Jennifer, gave me two stars she had. I hung them in my classroom; one for the past year and one for the new year just beginning. I have kept up the tradition every year. I get a lot of comments about my stars. Other teachers think they are pretty, the students think they are cool. I think they add just that much more of myself to my room. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Work Day

     I came to my class room today. We are obligated to work one day of the lst. two weeks before school starts. Most teachers use this day to clean and organize their rooms for the new year. So, here I am today, the Thursday before school starts. My carpets are all nice and clean, my ramp has been painted. This is my room, #616; the one with the rose. It is a copy of Salvadore Dali's "Red Rose." Many of the class rooms on campus have paintings on them. We had an art teacher that was here for many years (he retired in 2013) and had some of his students do the paintings. I like my rose!
     I have been here since 7:45 this morning. I have put my desks in order (I have 28) put up some tables, gone through old files, cleaned my desk and my window, set up the students' work-filing and turn-in baskets, (new labels on most) checked my rosters, printed out seating charts, got out the first unit's lesson plans, organized a bookcase, had in depth conversations with two other teachers, (also here working) visited the office, hung some new pictures in the ladies rest room, learned how to show movies and get on the Internet with my new laptop, washed some of the students' desks, (they are brand new but there was shipping dirt on some of them) scoped out a new filing cabinet and put my name on it and three boxes of magazines, put my syllabus and my journal packets out and, last but not least, I hung my paper star. (I'll write more about those another time...keep you guessing...)
     It is 3:55 and I think I am done for the day. And I just got a call from the office that some students wanted to come and see me, so I will visit with them for a while before I go home. I think I'm ready for the new year to begin.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Santa Maria High School

Sammy the Saint
 Today I thought I would give you some background about the school where I teach.
     Santa Maria High School is the oldest high school in the state of California; established in 1892. In that year it had one teacher (a man) who was paid $550 a year. There were 19 students enrolled; 10 boys and 9 girls.The first graduating class, in 1893, consisted of 4 students. Our mascot is Sammy the Saint and our school colors are red and white. Our sport teams are called The Saints. The school newspaper was first published in 1924, called The Breeze. It is still in publication today. The original population was a mix of kids from the surrounding ranching families.
     Jump forward to 2014. One of 4 high schools in our district, we now have an enrollment of 2300+/- students. 93% of those students are Hispanic. We have 450 on staff (I think more women than men, but I don't know the exact numbers) and we get paid more than $550 a year (thankfully.) The school has grown over the years. When I walk, at lunch time, across the campus and back to my class room, it takes me 22 minutes (unless I get stopped by other teachers or students) and maps out to a mile and a quarter.
     I am beginning my 7th year at SMHS. I have not had the opportunity to teach at a lot of other schools except my first job at Righetti High, in my same district. But I enjoy working at SMHS. The kids are great and respect their teachers. My colleagues are wonderful, highly educated and have a passion for teaching, (and a great percentage of them are actually graduates of SMHS, including our Principal, Joe Domingues.) I personally love my school and I wear the red and white proudly!
Ethel Pope Auditorium: One of the first buildings on our campus.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


      I suppose I should finish up this train of thought with Seniors. I have not taught classes of Seniors since my days as a student teacher. I always have seniors in my classes, from Intro. to Lit. on up to American Lit. I have had Seniors making up a class they missed because they were an ELL (English Language Learner) or ones that had to retake a class because they failed it the first time. So, I have had seniors, just not an entire class of them.
    Like I said, I haven't taught Seniors since I did my student teaching. It was my second assignment for student teaching and the Master Teacher I chose was teaching British Lit. It was in the spring of 2007. I walked into her class room on the first day. She said, "Hi! Glad you're here! We're starting a new unit on the novel in three days. Here's the book. It's all yours!" With that she handed me a copy of Lord of the Flies. I quickly read the book in a day and began to plan some lessons.
     Now, the thing with Seniors is that they basically "check-out" in October of their Senior year. They had already sent in their applications for college, if they were going, and by the spring, when I got up to teach, in front of them, they were just coasting until June. They were absent a lot for sports and clubs and special luncheons and Senior pictures and BBQ's and all those type of events. Out of a class of 35 I rarely had more than 21 kids show up every day.
     Since my experience that year, I have not really had a burning desire to teach Seniors. I think that students in their Senior year go into a type of limbo. Not really growing, not really all there everyday. They are waiting. But they are not waiting to come to my classroom to learn and study and work (at least the vast majority of them aren't.) They are waiting for it all to be over. To move on with their lives; go to college or work, get away from home, finally become independent.
     And all of this, I understand. It is part of the high school experience. And I must say, Seniors are the happiest people on campus. They have accomplished a big goal in their lives and have acquired just a little bit more maturity in that final year. Some of the ones I have gotten to know have come to me at the end of the year to say goodbye. I know something that they don't know. I know that the 4 years of high school they thought were such a struggle is just the beginning; there will be more struggles ahead. But I don't tell them that. I hug them and wish them well and see their parents watch with pride, and camera flashing, at the graduation ceremony.


Monday, August 4, 2014


     I love Juniors! they are my favorite class and age group. Juniors take American Literature, spanning from the "Crucible," written in the 1950's about the Salem witch trials in the 1600's, through Poe at the turn of the 20th century, on to Poetry and Transcendentalism, then the Harlem Renaissance and into the Modern period. I love the curriculum of American authors and their stories.But more than that I like the age group that I teach these subjects to.
     Because Juniors "get it." They know (and if they don't know I make it very clear to them) that this one year of their high school life can be the defining year for them. When colleges start getting applications for admissions, the students applying are still in their Senior year. And in the state of California, Seniors don't take any standardize testing. So colleges like to look back at a student's Junior year. Where they involved? Did they play a sport? Did they get consistent good grades, or better yet, did they pull their GPA up from their Sophomore year? Colleges want well-rounded individuals. There's a lot riding on a kid's Junior year. And they get this. They are smart. And they are hard workers.
     My Juniors do better work, more of it and quicker; sometimes handing it in early for a better grade. They are just a little bit older than Sophomores and more assured of themselves. They are not afraid to voice their opinions and do so regularly in literary discussions and about life topics in general. Some of the best journals ever written in my class have come from the minds of Juniors.
     I call the Junior year the golden year of high school. It is a time when all the mistakes of one's previous school years can be rectified. They can make up classes by taking extended day classes. They have the opportunity to join a club, a team, the band, and have it look like they have been involved since their Freshman year. They know the teachers by now and have figured out which ones will write them a referral letter for their college application, or for a scholarship. Everything comes full circle and if a student does it right, their Senior year will begin on a great high note and yes, as corny as it sounds, they can set the pace for the rest of their lives.
     All my classes will be Juniors this coming year. I am excited! Not so much about reading the "Crucible" and Their Eyes Were Watching God and Catcher in the Rye 5 more times, but I will be able to watch 125 young adults get a good start on their future school careers. It's going to be a great year!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


     Well, if I want to do this right, today I should give you some insight into Sophomores.
     The first couple of years teaching I did not teach Sophomores, who are obligated to take World Literature. Department Chairs (DCs) create something at the end of every year called "The Master Board." This is actually a big bulletin board in a conference room that has all the teacher's names and slots for the periods of the day. The DCs get together with a member of Administration and "tumble" the classes. With an eye to seniority and special credentials, (like being certified to teach Advanced Placement) they literally stand in front of this big board and decide which teacher will teach which classes. Seems like an archaic way to do things, but there it is... For the first couple of years all I got tumbled under my name was Freshmen and Juniors.
     Many teachers do not like Sophomores. I didn't know why until, one year, I had three classes of them. Sophomores are a special breed. They are like the middle children of the school. They are still a little unsure of themselves, still working out who they are and where they are going. To make up for all these left over insecurities they perfect a totally different personality. (I wavered there, and decided to use the word "different" when so many other words came to mind, most unflattering.) They walk around campus acting like they are "all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips." They harass the Freshmen, try to get in good with the upper class men and think they have life all figured out. Arrogant. Snarky. And if put in a group of their friends all in the same class room can be a handful to manage.
     Now, I'm not saying they are all this way. I have had some really good 10th graders. They are just more work to get enthused and harder to keep interested. In the spring of 2013 I started off the year reading
The Book Thief 
with them. It is part of the new Common Core curriculum and I was able to get them hooked on reading, and that interest followed us into the rest of the year, and we were able to come together nicely and share our own experiences . It brought us closer. So I must say that I am one of the teachers that DOES like Sophomores, warts and all. I must say that I laughed more with my Sophomores than I have with any of my other classes and above all, I find I like that.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014


     I normally won't be posting on the weekends but I thought with only 8 days left before the beginning of school I would provide some addition background for all of you who do not teach high school.And I thought it would be the perfect time to do this.
     Freshmen...the babies of high school.
     Most Freshmen begin their high school life full of angst and trepidation. They are just coming from a junior high, population 600-800, where they were big deals; top of the food chain, so to speak. They know most of the people in their classes because most of them went to elementary schools together. In junior high they are introduced to changing classes and a variety of teachers.
     Fast forward to high school. They are suddenly in a school fed by 3 junior highs with a population of 2700 kids. The fear is almost palpable! The high school offers Freshmen Orientation but not a lot of kids come, for one reason or another, so they are left to wonder and fret over the first day of school. Who will be there? Will I be able to find my classes (mind you, our campus takes 10 minutes at a fast pace to walk across) and then will I be able to find the lunch carts and the bathrooms and...most importantly, do I have the newest footwear and phone? You see them on campus the first day with a dazed look in their eyes, running to class because they got themselves on the wrong side of campus during break. I describe them looking like squirrels with their tails on fire! :)
     When I have had freshmen classes in the past, I can tell it takes about a month for them to settle in. If they are lucky, they have had older bothers, sisters, or cousins attend our school or they have been on campus for sporting events. If they have not been on campus before, they tread lightly, afraid to disturb the existing vibe and you can tell they are just trying to make it through until next year when they, again, can be one size bigger in the pond: Sophomores.

Friday, August 1, 2014


    August 2007. My first teaching contract! I was excited! I had gone back to school late in life and here I was, at the age of 51, finally getting to do what I always wanted to do when I grew up; be a teacher! I had been hired at Righetti High School, another school in the same district I currently work.
     I was anxious to get the keys to my room and begin the decorating! I had decided how I wanted the layout, where my desk would go, what I would but on the bulletin boards. I had shopped for items and desk/office supplies. I was armed with staplers and tape dispensers and paper clip holders that all matched. I had had a department meeting and received the curriculum calendars used by my department. (For those of you non-teachers these are guidelines for the sequencing of units, i.e. drama, short stories, etc... and how long one should spend in each unit.) I had my Teacher's Editions of the textbooks and ancillary components. I had planned out my first unit, day by day and I was raring to go. Give me the keys!
     I had been assigned a portable in a line of portables that had been recently moved into a small parking lot at the back of the school. Room 608. Monday I got word the portables had been moved and were ready for occupation. I had two days to get the room ready before the students came on Wednesday, but half of Tuesday would be spent in a Professional Development. Quick! Give me the keys!
     I picked up the keys in the office, checked my mailbox and drove my car which was laden with all my new stuff to the back of the campus and parked to unload.
     I went up the ramp, unlock the door, took a deep breath (I wanted to really absorb this special occasion) and opened the door. I just stood there, looking, for probably a couple of minutes; shocked. I could not see in the room. I was face to face with desks piled to the ceiling! I inched my way along the wall, (and it was a tight squeeze, let me tell you! I am a tad bigger than Tinkerbell!) and realized that not only were there probably 60 desks in my room but 5 teacher's desks, 5 bookcases, 5 long tables, 5 filing cabinets, 5 desk chairs and, crammed against the wall, a pyramid of boxes, higher than I stood. There were 3 overhead projectors perched on top of the filing cabinets and a cardboard model of Shakespeare's Globe Theater that consumed the other two file cabinets.
I peered over and under and around. They had left only two small 12" wide aisles through the maze of furniture and boxes.
     What on Earth? Come to find out, after a harried conversation in the office, that when they moved the portables they had used mine, at random, to store everything out of the other 4 portables. I had all my neighbor's stuff. They had maintenance come down and for 4 hours they moved items out of my room to where they belonged. But the room was filthy and I still had to contend with the pyramid of boxes (32 to be exact). What was I going to do? I could not get everything moved and cleaned and decorated in, what was now, less than a day. I got out my cell (no phone hooked up yet) and called my neighbors and related my dilemma. They offered to come down and help since my husband was working out of town.
     Thanks to my neighbors everything was set up, cleaned, moved and decorated. But those portables didn't get phones for 2 weeks. The electricity on that end of campus had not been powerful enough to handle additional rooms so we were hooked up to a generator which periodically died. I didn't even see a computer for 2 months. No overhead (the ones that were there that first day belonged to others) just 2 whiteboards and a box of markers. I figured that if the teachers of old could teach with only chalk and a chalkboard, I would be just fine.
     Wednesday morning, when the first period of students arrived, I was ready at the top of the ramp to greet them. I had been given 5 classes of Freshmen, Introduction to Literature. I counted 179 students walked through my door that day and every day thereafter until June. We eventually got the phones and computers and electricity without the generators. We did o.k. and in June when the last student left I sat at my desk and reminisced about the year. I decided that if I could last through all that I went through that first year, I was ready for anything!