Thursday, April 28, 2016

What The Fly Overheard in My Classroom

Student A:  You should try my grandfather's lasagna.  Well, it's not lasagna, but it's like it.  It's....zucchini...wait, no that's a vegetable....a martini.....wait.....

Teacher:  Do you think you mean ziti?

Student A:  YES!  Ziti, it's soooooo good.

Student B:  A martini is a drink, right?  An adult drink.

Student A:  Oh yeah.  My mom's had one of those.

long pause

Student A:  My mom's had a lot of adult drinks, actually.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Someone Should Take Away My Sewing Machine

Take them away.  Take my serger and my regular machine.  Put them very high up, out of my reach.  My sewing techniques are a disgrace to the world that is home sewists.

Since it's April vacation for me, I knew I'd want to sew, so I bought some fabric from  She has some great knit fabric and a fabulous double gauze that I thought would be perfect for this imaginary top that I'm trying to perfect.

I should have known I shouldn't sew this week, when the package arrived and I hadn't ordered anywhere near enough of the double gauze for my great plans.

The knits seemed ample enough and I was really excited to make a few Union St. Tees for myself in various sleeve lengths.  My favorite color was a toss up between the peat and the light pink.

I went with the peat first and planned to make a long sleeved shirt but didn't have enough fabric, so I went with elbow length.  In a medium.  And then had a terrible time with the tension on my serger and ended up with the most ridiculous wavy neckband.

I took out the neckband 3 times and redid it and each time, it just wasn't right.  I even topstitched it one of the times, sure that it would work itself out.

Have you ever taken out a serged seam?  If that doesn't put you right in the looney bin, then you are one tenacious beast.

I did it THREE times.
Then I decided that the whole shirt was just too big and cut it apart to cut it back to a small.

Along the way, one of my serger threads started to misbehave and because sergers were invented by the devil himself, it took me longer to straighten out that mess than it would have to make a shirt for each of you reading this.  Sergers need to be threaded in a particular order and even when you pretend you did it in the right order, because what difference does it make, you have to take it out and do it again the RIGHT WAY or you won't have anything.

I got that straight and then, just as the whole thing was coming together swimmingly, I RAN OUT OF THREAD in one of the most crucial of the 4 spools.

I almost cried because that is the one that MUST be threaded first, so I had to take all of them out again and rethread the entire machine.  Again.

Since I had already hemmed it and everything because I thought I had the neckband under control in the medium, I didn't bother to undo it and figured I'd just sew the side seams differently from how the directions said to.   As in, not do the hem after.

And everything went as I was hoping it would.  Until I realized I had done this.

FRONT:  nice double needle topstitching.

BACK:  serged edge because it's supposed to be INSIDE and then there's the stitching on the back of the double needle topstitching which is now on this inside of this shirt.

It's the back, so I really don't care.  If anyone is close enough to see the front and back and actually notice a difference, then they deserve a prize.

After all the shenanigans, this shirt is actually the exact fit that I was looking for.  And I'll never achieve this perfection again because I couldn't possibly recreate the disaster it took to get here

I really love the color and the fabric is amazing.  It's a little heavier than a typical cotton, so this wide hem makes it feel very casual and almost like a sweatshirt, but not quite.

Oh, and that neckline?

Much better the fourth time around.  Or was it the 5th?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Teacher, A Mathematician and A CSI Walk Into A Classroom

When I was in elementary school, we took a standardized test every year called the Stanford Achievement Test.  I later found out that all of my friends in other schools took something called the SRA, but I don't know what that stands for.

The SRAs that we took in my school where those colored cards where you read a passage and answered questions and you moved through the colors in the box.  I'm sure those weren't the same kind of SRA that my friends took because they weren't really tests.

But I loved those SRAs more than anything because I could plow through at my own pace and get stars every time I finished a level.  I loved nothing more through elementary school than charts that showed my progress. 

Big surprise that I loved them.

I also loved taking the Standford Achievement Tests.  Again, because we moved through the test at our own pace, until we reached the page with the picture of the police officer holding up his hand and saying STOP.

I'm sure that is so politically inappropriate for tests these days.  Children surely can't take tests where pictures of police officers might traumatize them and ruin their tests scores.

And then when we were done, we could read the book that we'd placed under our desks.

Basically, it was a free for all during testing and I loved doing it my way.

I know, I know, big surprise.

I swear the SRAs and possibly the standardized tests had a big influence in why I wanted to be a teacher.   I thought everyone loved learning and moving through anything that had a motivating sticker or prize at the end.

BIG SURPRISE:  not everyone cares about bribery and prizes. And not everyone thinks being allowed unlimited reading time is a reward.   SHOCKING.

When I student taught in Tennessee, there was talk  of their state tests and how they would publish teacher names with test scores in the newspaper.  There was talk of merit pay for high test scores.  But I never thought I'd have to worry about that because we didn't have state tests in Massachusetts.

Oh, but today we do.  We suffered years of MCAS to now do a combination of MCAS and PARCC, eventually to just be PARCC.  Because I teach French, theses are not tests that I have to actually give yet, but these tests completely turn our schools and education inside out and influence everything.

The biggest thing standardized testing has changed is how teachers set their goals and go through the evaluation process.  In the old days, we'd write a goal or two and they could pretty much be as lofty, concrete or creative as we wanted, as long as the evaluator approved.

Goals changed a little about 10 years ago to include how those goals might be met, but it was always vague and more like telling a story.

Evaluation until about 5 years ago consisted of scheduling a time with my principal when I could show off my amazing skills, outstanding and brilliant students and my gorgeous classroom.  They'd come in for 40 minutes, I'd hope nothing bizarre went on, they'd write it up and we'd meet and they'd check off satisfactory or unsatisfactory or whatever it was called in those days.

I enjoyed the process because I was never worried that my kids were out of control or that I might not know how to teach the material.  Plus, being a French teacher, evaluators are never really sure what I'm doing and if it's good or bad.

As long as no one was maimed and no parents called to complain, life was good.

Today's process from goals to evaluation is unrecognizable.  This is where my father will cheer and say "GOOD, it's about time there's some regulation and rules in place".

And I kind of agree.  Until it's time to go through the process.

So, today's goals must be SMART.  That stands for 5 words, the most frustrating one being the M for MEASURABLE.    Gone are the vague words in goals where you might say I "Students will be able to identify personal pronouns in French."  That was pretty specific in the dark ages.

Today, there must be some kind of tool in place that will measure just how well they are able to identify personal pronouns.  There must be pre and post tests.  There must be EVIDENCE OF GROWTH.

This is where the CSI and mathematician come in.

The entire evaluation process now is about EVIDENCE.  There are 4 major standards and then a bunch of substandards and our district chose 9 this year that everyone has to show EVIDENCE for.

So, not only do my goals have to have measurable evidence of growth, I have to do the math to make sure that whatever percentage of students did whatever I said they would and show whatever measure of growth.

If I wanted to spend my life doing math, I would have become an actuary or an accountant.

Then, I have to collect all of my EVIDENCE and upload it to a magical site and then explain it all and what it pertains to.

It all becomes a sales pitch.

As far as I'm concerned, if you are doing what you're supposed to, there isn't anything in the standards that a good teacher would have trouble demonstrating with a few hours notice.  It just becomes an issue of going through everything we've written, made or taken pictures of and putting them under the right standard.

Making us all run around our computers and classrooms looking for evidence is insane.

If I wanted to spend my life providing evidence, I would have gone into forensics.
Then our evaluator goes into the magical site and looks at our evidence and our rationales and then checks off what we did or did not meet.

Somewhere along the way, the evaluator makes unexpected visits to observe the goings on in the classroom and writes them up right on the site.  They usually ask questions that we respond to and some of that can be evidence too.

And that's it.

No more glorious 3 page write ups about how wonderful we are or are not in the classroom.  No more paragraphs about the techniques we used to keep every.single.kid glued to the task at hand.  No more pleasantries about how hard we work outside of the classroom to do other things in the building.

It's all standardized and rule bound and impersonal.

And still not really all that standardized because this evidence is really just little snapshots.  A teacher could highlight an amazing unit that went really well where there is a ton of evidence and look  really great.  But, it could be that the only really good teaching that goes on all year is during that unit because the teacher knows the material well or is really excited about it.  No one would know that because the evidence provided made it all roses.

And, if you're good at sales, and many teachers are, then you can pretty much spin anything into evidence that meets a standard.

There are just as many amazing teachers out there as there are teachers who are not quite making the grade, and something needs to be done to keep an eye on things, but this process is not the way, I don't think.

I haven't found the magical answer yet.  I've been too busy being the best teacher I can be!

Linking here:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First Pickle of the Season

With such a nice growing season around here, I'm always really sad when the real cold comes and not much can grow.  If we can avoid frost, I can get a lot of veggies right into November.  But, once the frost comes, the only thing that can hang on outside is carrots and some onions.

In the greenhouse, I can get chard and beets to go all year and sometimes, I can get broccoli too, if I start it early enough in the fall.

Last fall, I started a bunch of carrots in the greenhouse and out in the ground early enough that they got a good start before the frost.  It was really fun to go through my garden a few weeks ago and pull out carrots that had wintered over and most were big enough to eat.  Those that weren't went right to Jackson, so nothing was lost.

A month or so ago, I threw some radish seeds into a pot in the greenhouse but I didn't put it on the heat mat.  They sprouted and grew, more or less, so this weekend, I pulled them out.  Two were really big, and all had crazy leaves, but the rest were pretty skinny.

Radishes are the first new thing that I get to grow every spring and it's so great to go out and see new growth and something ready so quickly.  They usually take about 25 days to reach maturity.

Something that grows so fast and look so pretty (especially when wet) should taste like candy, many of you probably know that radishes are fairly unpleasant.  You can cook them until they are translucent and they are very mild, kind of like when you cook down onions.  You can also eat the leaves.  And, though they are sharp, I like to put a little in a salad sometimes.

Last year, I discovered a radish pickling recipe that smells awful but tastes so good!  So, I found a few more carrots in the greenhouse, threw in a red onion (I didn't use all of those in the picture), and all of the radishes I had so far and this is what it looks like!

It tastes so great but smells really gross.  The recipe is here, but I didn't drain it and put in oil or lime juice and it was just as tasty without the added oil.  This way, if there's any left over after our pulled pork sandwiches, I will put it in a jar with a tight lid and keep it in the refrigerator and there won't be any oil clumps.

Once we discovered that we really like this on pulled pork and also hot dogs, we were sad that I hadn't made more, so this year, I'm planning to make a lot more and keep it in the fridge.  I'm not sure what else I'd put it on but I have thrown some in a salad instead of dressing, for a little kick.  I don't know about canning it and leaving it in the cabinet because this is not processed, so I get worried about bacteria.  With the vinegar in the cold refrigerator, they lasted a long time for us with no problems.

So, if you're itching to grow something that's quick and pretty, get some radish seeds and get to work!

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Bringing Sexy Back- To My Classroom

During a 5th grade class today, I had some kids at computers looking at the weather in some francophone countries.

A tattletale came running over and said "Sarah just typed SEX on the computer!"

"Sarah, is that true?"  Long, deadly stare.  "Then go back to your seat."

After everyone left, I asked her if she did it.  She totally admitted it. 

"Why did you do it?"

Because I'm 10.
  "Because I  wondered if there was a town called that?"

And, even though I'm not 10, I was curious too.  "Well, is there?"

"No, but there is one like it."


"Well, sort of like it.  It was SEXY."

"I highly doubt there's a town called Sexy anywhere in this world.  Don't do it again." 

Now hurry up and leave so I can go see.

Indeed, there is a town called Sexy.  In Peru.  It was in wikipedia too.   I'm not entirely sure it's real, but it's on the weather channel and wikipedia, so who would know?