Category Archives: Teaching

Stories from 19+ years in education.

Document Camera

slice of life“Are you the Incredible Hulk?”

This is not a question I expected from my class.  But I did notice that the document camera was giving me a definite lime green hue.  Once I proved to the students that I was not in-fact either green or wearing gloves I went on with the notes.  Oh, yes, you should know these are high school juniors and seniors, not primary students.  We also played the, “guess what color this marker is” game for the rest of class.  And the following day.

Sadly I have not ingested a chemical concoction to turn me into a superhero.  Technology was just annoying me.

So, I eventually turned in my document camera for a different one.  I finally plugged in the replacement this morning and to my vast astonishment it worked on the first try.  And I was not green.  I taught using it first period but my projector seems to be aging also so while previous years I didn’t need to dim the lights during presentations, I find it essential now.  I hate kids sitting in the dark, but am lucky to have some under-cabinet side lights so it isn’t really dark.  This document camera didn’t have a light.  Nothing was crisp on the screen and I wondered how well the back row could see.  They are too nice to complain.  So before third period I got a desk lamp, figured out where to run the cord and plug it in and was so pleased with myself at how well it projected.  That lasted less than seven minutes.  Somehow I managed to confuse the poor camera to just keep trying to focus.  Before we all became nauseous watching the screen, I turned off all the technology and wrote on the board.  The blackboard.  No, not a white board, a real black board with chalk.  The do still exist.  I have chalk dust on hem of my black slacks to prove it.  Don’t ask.

I requested help from media.  A different document camera appeared via student in my room.  Guess what?  It makes me turn green.

How was your day?

They Make Me Laugh

slice of lifeI leaned over the senior in my chemistry class and said, “Just to be very clear, I am not laughing at you – I am laughing at his reaction to whatever just happened here.”

I was thanked and I felt reassured that I had talked to the student.  My class was working in self selected groups on a series of purposely challenging problems so I could assess where everyone was at.  Last week was one of those crazy weeks where I was in and out of the classroom and I wasn’t sure if any of the instruction had stuck with the students; and it was homecoming week.  The math was not trivial, but not “rocket science” either.  But you would have thought by the reaction the other group member had that the student thought 1+1=cat.  He raised out of his chair, reached over, fussing at the other student and just kept saying, No!  He was loud with a bewildered expression on his face.  How could anyone have done that?

I love the difference in my students.  They may be in the same math class, they may not.  It really doesn’t matter.  Some kids come to me with some rather big holes in their math backgrounds but with practice they can identify them and fill them in.  And then I get some who are just very, very good at math.  And it is very hard for them to understand everyone else on the planet.  And they are just so fun to watch when they work together.

A few years back I was teaching honors physics and as a first day activity they wrote down what math class and teacher they had.  I double checked in the computer.  My honors physics kids had seven different classes and twelve different teachers.  Well, okay, I guess I will just assume absolutely nothing.  And the only two sophomores in the class were the stars.

Another year, again in self selected groups, a shining math star was helping the girl seated next to him.  This was physics.  And he retreated totally.  No pleading on her part could get him to help her because whatever math error she had just committed was the final fatal blow.  He put the neck of his shirt up over his head and sat like that for the rest of the period.  He couldn’t look at whatever it was that she had done.  How could anyone help but laugh?  I figured I didn’t need to know the details of that exchange either.

Why do I teach?  Because it is constantly changing, dynamic, entertaining, enlightening, and some days just downright fun!

Summer Camp

Did you go to summer camp?  I didn’t.  I had no desire and I really don’t think it was an option.  I have never been one to make friends quickly so I can’t imagine being forced to sleep in a cabin with girls I didn’t know.

And then there is the bathroom situation.  I still recall when the roadside rest areas in Pennsylvania had outhouses.  I can just imagine going someplace with less than pristine rest rooms.  No Thank You!

And the food?  I don’t eat eggs or mayo so I am seemingly impossible to please for breakfast or at any picnic.  And I used to be super picky about the hotdogs I ate.  I would have starved.  It is so sad to think about.  And before you suggest it, I ate peanut butter sandwiches, or jelly sandwiches, but never the two mixed.

Oh yes, and swimming is usually featured at camp, right?  I can swim.  But I won’t jump into a pool or off of a dock.  It is that fear of falling.  So even though I took seven – yes seven- years of swimming in school plus lessons at the YWCA at least twice I never progressed beyond basic because I couldn’t pass the test because I would not jump in the pool and swim a lap.  So images of fun in the water don’t really appeal.

The one time I went camping with girl scouts my mom went too.  That way I didn’t actually have to talk to anyone else.    We didn’t have sleeping bags which embarrassed me.  And all the girls in our cabin had pajamas.  I had a night gown.  That was just so embarrassing I don’t think I got past it.  And the food should have been OK.  We made the traditional foil packets of potatoes and carrots and chicken to leave in the fire before going on a hike.  Mine just wasn’t cooked after the hike.   No more camping after that.

So in this summer season, I have to ask myself, why are you leading camp starting Tuesday?  OK – it isn’t a “real” camp.  It is day camp, at a school, focused on science but still.  Or maybe that is really why I am doing camp now, because I didn’t way way way back when.



I admit we probably were tacky.

No, I don’t think as a high school student, I was particularly sticky or in any way like an adhesive. I have come to realize that in general teenagers are the exact opposite of polished and sophisticated. That is what my homeroom teacher meant when she said we were tacky. We lacked finesse and polish.

I had the privilege of having Ms. Potter as my eighth grade English teacher. She moved to the high school with us and was my homeroom teacher, I hung out in her room before school and she helped me write essays when I was afraid to ask my own English teacher for help.   Some time in our five years of interaction she got married and became Mrs. Baker but was still the same, no nonsense teacher. But she was fond of referring to all of us as being tacky. I knew it wasn’t good, but I never quite got it until recently.

I have finally quit expecting my tenth, eleventh, and especially my twelfth graders to be polished and sophisticated. They are kids. They are works in progress. They may drive, have jobs, get straight A’s in calculus and tower over me in height, but they are tacky. They often say whatever comes into their heads, having no empathy for me or their other teachers. Because they are kids. But I still need to constantly remind myself, they are kids. Cut them some slack. Give them a break. Very few are purposely mean or hurtful but on occasion any one of them may come across as tacky.

What do I mean? Just last week a retired teacher and his wife stopped by my room to say hello while at the school. “Miss, is that your sister? You look just like her! Really! You do!” She had to be at least 25 years older than me. But through the teen age eyes, we all are just in that old adult category. No use getting mad.

“Miss, did you grade my test?” The one you waited three weeks to make up, spent all of lunch trying to do, handing it to me less than an hour ago as I started teaching? Oh wait, you just asked a question. No reason to rant. A simple, “No,” is much better than the indignant rant playing in my brain. You don’t know my minute by minute plan any more than I know yours. It was just a simple question. Same thing with the email sent after ten o’clock at night, the make-up work buried in the stack and every teacher’s all time favorite, “Did we do anything while I was out?”

So take a deep breath, be the example you want them to become, and give a short and polite answer with a smile, each and every time you are asked the same tacky question. No matter how much they look like adults, they still are kids.

October 1

Happy October.  Of course in Florida, it barely registers as fall, yet.  The weathermen happily note that the high is only 89 instead of in the 90’s, but for the rest of us, we really don’t feel any change.

We have been back to school for over a month now.  The routine has set in.  Unfortunately that routine consists of constantly being tired and swamped with paperwork and pulled in too many directions at once.  I realized this as I walked to a meeting yesterday to find a locked door.  The walk wasn’t that far, but as I gazed through the window into the dark classroom I was upset.  This of course quickly passed.  Eventually my weary, end of the school day brain realized that they weren’t hiding from me.  This wasn’t personal, just a mistake.  I trudged back to my classroom and checked my email.  Probably the only email I deleted this week was the one giving date and time.  So I sent out an email saying sorry I missed you.  The meeting moved, and I wasn’t cc’d which is just fine.  I didn’t need to be there, and I was quite able to find work to fill my time and they were quite able to function without me.  But it was Wednesday afternoon, therefore I must have a meeting.

As all true teachers know, you not only teach, but to survive you have a second job.  Some of us hope this is only for a season, but I fear this is my lot in life.  You see, I do mind eating Raman at age 48.  So, I tutor.  I left today to tutor and realized I had a missed text.  “Is it too late to cancel, he has an activity after school?”  “No problem,” I texted back.  Freedom.  So I bought an iced coffee and went and bought a pretty yellow mum.  Even if it doesn’t feel like autumn, my entryway can look like fall.  And the red, white, and blue planter bought on sale after July 4, 2014 (yes really!) is looking a little scraggly.  So I have a friendly yellow plant to greet me and I used part of the time to “rake” the leaves off of the porch.  Of course, these are just the dead leaves that have accumulated for months from the neighbors’ oak tree, and I swept,  I didn’t actually rake, and I did need to recuperate in the AC when done, but never-the-less, it was a lovely fall day.

Happy October 1, y’all!


It Must Be August or You Might Be A Teacher If…

Happy first day of August.  I am enjoying the summer in that odd style that only teachers will probably understand.  Beside the date on the calendar, I realized it was August 1 today for many reasons.  The first reason you would think, the heat wave hitting the country, the record temperatures, the mild scent of sweat drifting in the air even if you venture outside for an instant wasn’t really what confirmed it.

I know it is the first day of August because before nine this morning I had two arguments with myself over what day of the week it is.  It is Saturday.  This was confirmed by morning television but, it is really hard to keep track.  After all the only day I have to set the alarm is Sunday so in my relaxed teacher mind there are only two days in the summer, Sunday and Notsunday.  And I really enjoy sleeping until I wake up.

How else do I know it is the first of August?  I know it is the first of August because I have both physical and mental energy.  The energy drained by a school year teaching chemistry and physics seems be refilled. I know that someplace I have a little battery like on my electronic devices and it is green and full but it took a really long time to overcome the drained, red, less than 10% status that I ran at in June.   I have planted flowers in place of the ones burnt by the summer heat.  I have trimmed and watered and found lots of other projects to do outside.  Then, while wandering through the kitchen I have identified new ways to organize the dishes, make use of those shelves way above my head and cull out those things lurking in the back of the cupboard and donate them to charity.  Believe me when I tell you all these things are rare events for this couch potato.

While preparing my list of things to do I also now have a second category.  The working title is, Next School Year.  So far this summer I haven’t really done much but avoid thinking about next school year.   But so far today I managed to scan material that would be helpful for next year.  No big deal, you think?  It involved cleaning off the scanner, connecting it to the “new” laptop, shooing the cat off the laptop when she walked by and somehow managed to cancel instillation,  well, you get the picture.  But it is done.  It wasn’t started and then I lost interest like most things attempted in June or July.  And I have a laundry list of ideas for Next School Year. And the list of ideas is invigorating not draining.  Yes, it must be August.

Just so you don’t think I completely set out to brag, I also have this little buzzing in my brain reminding me that the next pay check is a month away and the savings is getting smaller and wouldn’t it be great if you could save money?  I know, you can make it a game, the back corner of my brain suggests. You can go anywhere you want for lunch tomorrow, but you have this much money to spend.  Oh, that wasn’t exciting enough, fine, just tap into the hurricane supplies.  The weather in the tropics is calm.  You won’t miss a couple of cans from the pantry.  They would work well with the leftovers.

Lastly, how do I know it is August first.  Well, it is 23 days before school starts.  The countdown begins.

Online Course

I want to share a secret with you.  I’m taking an online writing course.  You may have noticed I don’t post to the blog a lot.  I thought a writing course might help.  One of the ongoing assignments is to write in your journal at least an hour a day.  Perfect, I thought.  But this has not helped me post to my blog.  You see, I have been too busy to blog.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t learned many valuable skills during the online course which is two weeks shy of being over.   But the most important thing I have learned is empathy for my students.

One of the first things I have learned is that sometimes life gets in the way of doing homework.  This specific course has standing assignments due every Wednesday and Sunday.  That seems so easy, until you have to do that and have a life.  You may have heard, that earlier this summer a tree fell on my car.  And I needed to get it off.  But that was the evening I planned to do my homework.  So much for that.  Then I had to put it off another day.  Wait, this isn’t easy!  Or you are driving home after a perfectly fun day of movie and a dinner with friends and it hits you, wait, it is almost 7:00 pm.  And while you have five hours to complete your homework by midnight, was that really what you planned to do Sunday night?

I have also learned the importance of reading directions and it is really easy to miss one word in the directions, completely changing the meaning.  So that assignment I worked so hard on that was in third person that had to be written in first person.  And luckily I saw my mistake before hitting submit.  What if I hadn’t seen that word at that moment?  Hopefully I can be more compassionate and realize how easy it can be to misread and put in work, but not answer the question posed.

But today tops it all.  I so felt like one of my sophomore chemistry students.  You see, I lost my text book.  I have a reading assignment due tomorrow and we have two text books.  But I read ahead and hadn’t needed one of the two books for three weeks now.  And I couldn’t find it.  Seriously.  I am an adult and I bought this paperback for nearly $30 you would think I wouldn’t lose it.  But alas, it was hiding from me.  So, I cleaned the living room.  But it wasn’t there.  But an hour went by.  Thankfully, in the next place I looked I found it covered by a pile of laundry that needed folding.  Hopefully I will remember this the next time a kid tells me they can’t find their book, or the more common story of “I was at Dad’s house and my book is at Mom’s,” or vice versa.

And lastly, we are eight weeks into a ten week summer online course and the instructor hasn’t posted grades.  Any grades.  Did I mention we have assignments due every Wednesday and Sunday at midnight?  Yup, no grades yet. I’m over the anxiety but I’m not a 16 year old who could get grounded if the grade isn’t good.

So in conclusion, I think the greatest thing that I have learned over choosing to take an online course, is the reminder of what it is like to be a student.

UPDATE:  Just that week an assignment was graded as was the final portfolio, but still…I feel for you students!

It’s funny what students remember

Several years ago for professional reasons I changed schools.  Moving from one high school to the next nearest geographically had a few perks.  One of them was my first year some of my old students found their way in to visit me.  This was before heightened school security and it was great to see friendly faces.

“Hi Teacher,” followed by a big hug.

“Wait, you don’t go here,” was my confused reply.  He then explained his cousin did so he came to visit.  We can pretend he wasn’t supposed to be in school someplace else, okay?

“Do you remember when I set off the eyewash?”

Of course.  But why that should be the crowning memory of an entire year of chemistry I’ll never know.  But you don’t get to pick what other people think is important or funny or humorous.  The class was doing a relatively simple experiment adding measured amounts of salt to boiling water to see how it changed the boiling point.  His group added the salt and the water bubbled out of the beaker, all over the hotplate hissing and making a mess.  He jumps back off of his lab stool, good reflexes saving him from the boiling water, only to step on the foot pedal of the Emergency Eye Wash.  For some reason, known only to the architect that designed the school, close behind the back student lab station was the eyewash and safety shower.  This particular one had not only a hand lever, but a foot pedal too.  And an even “better” feature was the fact that the eye wash spouted water, into and beyond the bowl, until you manually pulled a bar back over the entire contraption.  So, from the front of the lab I make my way to the back, make sure no one is hurt, unplug the wet electric hot plate and reach into the full force fountains in the eye wash and turn it off.  My only thought was, great, now I have to try to get a custodian to mop up this mess.  But apparently this will be what he remembers about high school chemistry forever.

I assume what happened is similar to the “Water Boiled in Microwave Suddenly Explodes” chain emails of yesteryear.  See Snopes.