Friday, January 30, 2015

What's in a name?

      Every new school year I am faced with the same dilemma: how do I learn the names of the 130+ students in my classes? Sometimes a kid is so unusual in his demeanor or attitude that I get their name the first day, and it sticks in my brain. And usually I don't have any trouble with the common names: Diane, Erik, David, Maria, (although sometimes I have too many Marias in different classes and they all start to meld together.) And sometimes it is not so much remembering what face goes with which name, but actually how to pronounce the name. This year I have some interesting ones: Penfila, Eloy, Misael, Abdiel, Cess, (short for Princess) Crisoforo, Silviano (who goes by Chapo, which means short), Rosalba, Daysy (Daisy) Banessa.
     It takes me almost until Christmas to learn all the names and the faces they belong to. I am beginning to work on the last names now. Most of the kids have more than one last name, and with a middle name they end up with 4 or 5 names (which is common in the Hispanic tradition.)
     I try to get them right as I always had trouble with my last name until I got married. No one knew how to pronounce my maiden name: Julkowski and everyone spells my name, Jody, with an "I" instead of a "Y" at the end. Most of the kids say they don't care if I pronounce their name incorrectly but I care. I tell them it is part of their identity and they should expect people to respect that.    
     By the way...the most popular name in my classes this year is Salvador.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Up Early

A couple of days ago I took this picture as I was leaving, in the morning, for work. I posted it to my Facebook page and said that the next time I choose a career it will not be one where I have to leave for work before the sun comes up. I love my job, more than any of the other jobs I've ever had, but it is getting exceedingly difficult to get myself up at 5:00 in the morning.
The bigger problem with the early mornings present itself in the attitude of the students. With the implementation of the new schedule this year they added a lot of classes that begin at 7:30. There is a high rate of absenteeism in those classes. My first class starts at 8:30 and even though I don't have as many kids not attending, there is a lack of student brain power at that time in the morning. Many come with coffee from 7-11 or Starbucks hoping to be able to comprehend the beginning of their day.
Most might think that 8:30 is not that early. There are many, many jobs that start at 8:00. But research shows that the teenage brain does not do well in the early morning hours. They would do better to begin school at 9:00 and go until 4:00.
I think most teachers would like that schedule better. I know I would. I wouldn't have to get up until 6:30. But better yet, by the time I left for work the sun would be up! It probably wouldn't stop all the sleeping in class, but I bet it would help. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pencils, pens and paperclips; oh, my!

 People who don't teach don't really know what is needed to run a class room on a day to day basis. We teachers not only hold court, keep interest high, moderate comments from the audience, keep track of kids that aren't doing well, talk to counselors re: kids who aren't doing well, figure out how to input grades and change grade books and learn new technology, provide a port in the storm and an ear and, sometimes, Kleenex not to mention pencils, erasers, poster paper, note book paper, pens, (red, blue and black, depending on what we're working on) highlighters, (yellow, blue and pink, again, depending on what we're working on) colored construction paper, paper clips, rubber bands, Band-Aids, printer paper, glue sticks, sticky notes, hand sanitizer and, last but not least, one of my most sought after supplies: pencil lead (#7 is more popular than #5.) And we provide all this and teach.
     Each year we get a budget to order from Office Depot. I spend all my funds on stuff the kids need: the above mentioned list. (Oh, except for the Kleenex, hand sanitizer and Band-Aids. I supply those with my own money.) And sometimes when I have any left over I buy white board markers and staples. (It seems like I go through an inordinate amount of staples!?!?) I try to have everything a student might need to succeed! And I have found it easier and faster to just hand a kid a new pencil when he/she doesn't have one rather than asking his/her neighbor to rat around in a backpack looking for a loaner, which they may or may not have. So there are no excuses in my class. I provide almost everything they need. And I don't know about other teachers but I have a really good time going through the catalog!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


     The talk today was about cars. One of my students was telling me that some new cars have this program that keeps you from accelerating any faster than it wants you to. I said, "I couldn't stand that."
"Why?" He wanted to know.
And I proceeded to tell him about the Toyota Celica (in blue) we had owned and how I loved driving it because it picked up really fast and hugged the road and was so much fun.
"Really?" He said. "I don't see you with an import."
"Oh?" I said. "And just what type of car do you see me with?"
"I always thought of you as a 'muscle car' type," he said. (Where did this come from?)
I said, "Well if you're going to go muscle, a 1967 Mustang would be my dream car."
One kid turns to another, "Wow! Mrs. Nelson knows her cars! How bomb is that?"
The bell rang and they walked off together talking engines and tires and other car stuff.
Little do they know that the short conversation we had used up most of my knowledge of cars!
The bomb. Indeed!

Monday, January 26, 2015


     I thought long and hard about whether to talk about this topic today and decided that this is just another part of teaching. A sad, uncommon part.
     The campus is quiet today. Last week one of our revered teachers (20+ years) was arrested. He taught English and was the advisor for the newspaper and year book, was an assistant coach, and he was arrested for downloading and distributing child pornography.
     My first reaction was disbelief, as I'm sure most of the staff felt. My next reaction was profound sadness; I wanted to just cry and I was fearful for our students and how they would take the news. I talked to several others that felt the same way. Over the weekend I grew mad, that this person I had worked with for 8 years could be so stupid. And on my way to work this morning I wondered how he was doing; what his weekend must have been like, how fearful he must feel about his future and wondered if he was experiencing a sense of relief that he didn't have to hide any longer.
     I suppose it is natural to come full circle, but I can't tell how the rest of the staff feels. Like I said, the campus is quiet today. Nods of good morning but very little other conversation. The kids want to know what will happen to him. I told them I didn't know, but at all costs they must not believe every rumor they hear and they must not spread information that may or may not be true. They seem to understand, which is sad in and of itself.

Friday, January 23, 2015


     Seagulls. You can see them waiting. They are there every morning and every afternoon. Waiting on the top of the cafeteria and on top of the gym; two places that afford them the best view of their territory. They know the schedule. They know when to expect the lunch-carts and the kids and the trash that is left on the tables and ground around campus.
     Normally I like to brag about our school but I am sad to tell you that we have a big problem with trash. It's not just on this campus but others in the district also. And I don't understand why we have this issue. I attended 15 schools before I graduated high school. I do not remember any of them, including the 2 high schools, having a trash issue. And I don't think it is necessary here either. As one can see in the picture on the bottom right, there are plenty of trash cans within easy reach of the tables and in front of many class rooms and inside every class room. This trash shows lack of pride in the campus.
     We have trying to solve this problem ever since I began teaching here. We have yet to come up with a solution. Even kids getting pooped on by the seagulls has not deterred the trash. Is this what we can expect from these kids as they grow? Is it that they are lazy? They know better but don't care? Have they not been taught properly, by their parents, to take care of things that are not theirs?
     All of these questions go unanswered but let me tell you the well-fed seagull population, that call this campus home, is thriving!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Scales of Justice

     When I first started working at the high school level it astounded me that there were quite a few students in my classes that had had run-ins with the law. At any given time I have several in each class on probation and usually one or two wearing ankle bracelets, (used for tracking their movements.) Numerous times each year I sign absence re-admits due to court appearances. Of course not all of these are from any wrong-doing by the students; sometimes it is due to family matters. But these are not excused absences and many times the student's grade suffers.
     I think that it is sad when I overhear a group of kids not talking about the prom or the latest movie they've seen, but comparing and contrasting their lawyers. It is a shame that these kids have had to deal with that profession from the wrong side of the law. They have had to grow up too quickly.
     So, you may be asking what can be done for these kids. Nothing really. As teachers we are usually kept apart from their personal lives; they don't always share with us. And if they did I don't think we could do much more than listen. We can do our best to make their day to day school experience as normal as possible. It's not much, but it is what it is, and sometimes that is all we can do.     

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Their Eyes Were Watching God

 Today we started to read Their Eyes Were Watching God.   I love this book even though I have read it 28 times now and that number will go up to 33 times when all my classes finish it this semester. It's like visiting an old friend. And, hard to believe, every time I read it I am able to glean some new insight out of it. Before we got started today, I had to introduce the characters and themes and how they will intertwine through out the book. I get done doing all this and I stop to take a breath.

Student in front row: "This looks really boring!"
Me: "Did you just say that out loud?" (I heard some gasps from the rest of the room...students I have had before. They know better.)
Student, with a quizzical look: "I think so. Yeah." 
Me: "Didn't you hear me say I loved this book?"
Student: "Yeah."
Me: "That statement about the book being boring? That should have been made in your head." 
Student: Silence. I am assuming he did not know what I meant.
Student: The light bulb goes on: "Oh, wow, this may be a good book!"
Me: "Of course it will be! You'll love it! And, oh, by the way, that's what you should have said in the first place, out loud."
Student, nodding his head slowly:"Yeah." 
Lesson taught and learned.        

Friday, January 16, 2015

Here we go again!

     Just when you think you are going to have a boring day, someone comes to 6th period with a jar of red vines to eat while we are watching the rest of our documentary about Zora Neale Hurston. I asked him if he was going to share and he asked me if I wanted some. I said, "No. They have wheat in them." Another kid said, "Really? It does not!" I said, "Yes, it does." Another kid piped up, "You're kidding us!" O.K. by this time I'm thinking, "Man these kids are awfully interested in food allergies. How strange!" Then another kid offered the holder of the red vines $10 for some pieces. And a lot of the other kids wanted some, too. And I said to them, "I'm serious; read the label." They were getting all excited and talking about this candy!
     And then one of them said, "It really has weed in it?" "Weed?" I asked. "No! I said WHEAT, not weed!" OMG! Too funny!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Zora's Dialect

     Today we started a new unit. We will eventually be reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of my favorite books to read and teach. But before we go there we need to have some introduction to the way Zora wrote. So we are watching a documentary about her life and talking about dialect.
     Zora was one of the most famous authors to come out of the Harlem Renaissance. Before Zora began writing most black authors, (Yes I know the PC term is African American now) mainly wrote for  a white audience. But Zora, who was the first black student of Barnard College, studying Anthropology, spent time in the South documenting and recording the cultural folklore, songs, children's games, and traditions that went back hundreds of years, because she was afraid they would be lost. When she wrote her stories/books she used the authentic language used by the black people of the South. She wanted to let people know the rich diversity of the dialect and the "spirit" and "soul" of  the people in that part of the country. Thanks to Zora Neale Hurston, the culture of the African American in the South will live on.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

X Marks the Spot

 I am certainly hoping that tape is going to change my life. At the beginning of the school year in August I got new desks. Seemed like a nice event. But the more I have lived with these desks I have discovered they have a life of their own. They migrate to the front of the classroom, in mass. Almost everyday I was pulling them back to the center of the classroom so that I didn't feel like I was literally in someone's face while teaching, (although many students need that!)
     All Christmas break I thought about this issue and came up with different seating chart configurations. But in the end I didn't think just moving the seats into different patterns would keep them from attacking me at the front of the room. I thought, "Why should I move these desks everyday when I don't even sit in them?" The students weren't moving them on purpose, it was just the effect of kids sitting and getting up 5 times a day. So, I bought a roll of blue painter's tape and decided to runs lines along the carpet and have the kids line up like horses in a race. A big grid patter. Box= You Go Here. But that was going to mean a lot of bending and measuring, (because if I didn't get them straight that would bug me almost as much if not more!) So I thought, "Why not just put an X of tape to put the leg of the desk in (see picture upper right.) The desks sit in twos so I just put the tape on the front left corner, figuring the other desk could easily line up with the one on the tape.
     Today I told my students it was their responsibility to get the desks and the blue tape lined up every period, before they left the room. So far, it's working, but it's only been one day. We'll see if the blue tape really does change my life!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Unanswered Tech Questions

Today marks the day that Mrs. Nelson fully attempts to embrace technology in the classroom. Every teacher on campus was given a Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet. Nice, huh? Yes, well...the word in the first sentence you're going to have to focus on is "attempts." I will elaborate. 
     We were given these tablets in the hopes that we can learn how to utilize them within the curriculum (a new Common Core Standard.) The first scary part is that we are giving one to each student in the district. Yes, giving. They will not be checked out like textbooks or kept in a charging station in each classroom. They will belong to the students. They will customize them as they see fit. Pictures, music etc...
     Great! Santa Maria High School is going high tech. They will be in sync with the real world. I'm all for technology (I don't want to be high tech, but I know that people all over the world are begging for better and better technology on a daily basis) but these tablets come with some reservations on my part (and maybe many other teachers' parts.)
To keep this brief:
     1.  They will be given out to students this spring. Will there be enough training for teachers before the kids get them?
     2.  How are they going to issue consequences for kids that: sell them, lose them or forget them at home when they need them in class, or bring them uncharged? And what will those consequences be? And how are they going to help me if 6 of the 27 kids in each class don't have their tablets to do the work I had planned for the day?
     3.  What if kids have no Internet access except at school?
     4.  What technician is going to work full time to repair the broken tablets or removes viruses?
     5.  Will the existing bandwidth allow wireless printers to be hooked up so the kids can print?
     6.  If no printers are hooked up am I going to be stuck sitting on a computer reading and editing everything the kids email to me? (Think 140+/- 4-5 page essays) Ugh!
     So, here's the job put before us: We are to teach the kids that technology is more than Twitter and Facebook, or what you can do on your phone, and not only do we show them what that is, and how to access it, but use it responsibly. As with everything new, it will take time to learn the ins and outs. 
    The second scary part is that my students will learn it faster and be much better at it than I will. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Semester

     Today is the first day of the Spring Semester. Welcome back to the real world. It was difficult to get myself out of bed this morning at 5 a.m. but that hurdle is conquered and tomorrow will be easier. We had a Professional Development Day today. I hate to say this but it is just a lot of information that probably could have been given out in an email. One of the big pieces of news today was the fact that they (the District) are giving new tablets to all the teachers. We will get training on these and then in August each of the students will get one. Hmmm... yes, you heard me right. Each of our 2700+/- students is going to get their own personal tablet. We teachers get ours tomorrow so that we have time to be trained and familiar with them before we have to use them to teach the kids. I'm not quite sure I'm going to be able to do this. but then again, I didn't think I would be able to get my BA degree at the age of 49 either, so who knows? It helps that it has the same OS that my home computer has: Windows 8.1. I guess it may be time to take that tutorial I have been putting off!?!?! Anyway, Monday is now a memory. Tomorrow is a teacher work day, and Wednesday the kids start back. It is kind of good to be back in a routine, and back to blogging.