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!