Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I'm discovering that things around school don't get any easier as we get closer to vacation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I haven't posted in a while because there have been so many "incidents" in my classes that I have been overwhelmed with frustration thinking about how to put it down into words. If you see me over the Christmas break, remind me to tell you the full version of these stories. For now, let me leave you with this teaser: 2 screaming/cussing fights involving a pregnant girl, one physical fight between 2 guys that I almost ended up in the middle of, and countless administrators, resource officers, and school police officers in my classroom (all at the same time one day...) This is all just in the last 2 weeks.

I am constantly amazed at the aggressiveness and combativeness of this group of kids. They seem to gain strength from cursing, screaming, and totally ignoring any and all authority.

In other news, my geography class is completely hopeless. I hope they forget my name so I won't be blamed in the future when they mistakenly identify "Afghanistan" as a religion (like one young man did today). I just finished making their final exam. It will focus only on vocabulary terms and identifying major geographic features (like North America).

Today, my co-teacher pulled one student out of class due to her constant disruption, foul language, and absence of any work. After spending some time with the student and another special education teacher, my teacher came back and informed me that he had "figured out the problem" with this student. She can't read. He said she couldn't even recognize some basic words. No wonder. No wonder all of her work is copied from her friends. No wonder she acts out every day during our school-mandated 20 minutes of silent reading. No wonder she talks and goofs off during classwork. So sad. She is in 10th grade. She was in special ed for behavior disorders, but I guess no one ever figured out the main problem. This is what happens when we aren't allowed to fail students. Maybe she could have benefited from another year of 1st grade.

Wow. I am so ready to take a step back from all the madness for a couple weeks. Christmas break is almost here. In the words of Pat Green,"just 3 days." (3 long days)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Home Stretch for 1st Semester

Before leaving school for the fabulous 3-day Thanksgiving break, the whole school (well, everyone that decided to show up the day before a break) assembled in the gym for the "Thanksgiving Program." Every homeroom class was supposed to assemble a basket of canned foods for needy families to present during the program. My kids brought in a whopping total of 2 cans. Thank goodness Kenneth took me to stock up a few days earlier, and I filled the basket so it didn't too pitiful.

Someone at the school is in the Christmas spirit. There are big snowflakes all over the walls, light-up reindeer in the lobby, and ornaments hanging from every intersection of the ceiling panels in the front hall. Whoever hung the ornaments was probably trying to show a little school spirit by choosing only blue and silver decorations; however, to the untrained eye, that color scheme makes it looks the the Hanukkah aisle at Target.

I can't believe I have less than 3 weeks left in this semester. Praise the Lord for carrying me through this far. Things will be extra hectic these last couple weeks, but it helps to see the light at the end getting a little closer. There have been many moments this semester when I sincerely did not believe I would make it to December.

Here's an intriguing question that one of my freshmen asked me today: "What would you do if you accidentally killed someone?" From the way he asked, I knew this wasn't just hypothetical. I decided it was probably my responsibility to make sure that he hadn't actually killed someone, so I had to find out where this question was coming from. He didn't give too much information, but from what I could tell, he and his friends had been involved in a practical joke that caused another friend to pass out, which scared them all. It seems that everyone is fine now, and hopefully a little more cautious with their jokes too. Oh dear.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is it Christmas yet?

I would have thought that a school as closely monitored as Avondale would be extremely conscious of being politically correct. However, much to my surprise, the secretary sent out an email today asking teachers to donate any lightly used Christmas decorations to the school so that we can "bring Avondale into the Christmas spirit." That's right- CHRISTMAS, none of that generic "holiday" nonsense. I'm not going to tell on them. Especially not if they let me put Christmas lights on my cart.

I was observed this morning by the lady in charge of social studies for all DeKalb high schools. She took pictures of all sides of my cart. She also told me that my cart was ridiculous (but she said it in a bless-your-heart sort of way). She took a copy of the assignment I had given to the class and told me that she thought it was great and she could tell I was working really hard. Then she gave me a high five, looked at my cart again, shook her head, and said, "all this on a cart... and they gave you two different classes." I could be wrong, but I think she feels my pain... at least a little.

So, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until I got to 3rd period. Per usual, the freshmen managed to dismantle all the pleasure that comes with any small victory from 1st period. I'm trying a new tactic for discipline with a few of them that the assistant principal recommended... but NO success so far. Meanwhile, they still think that Australia is a country in South America. (true story)

Quick update on the new co-teacher in 4th period World History: The kids hate him, and I believe the feeling is mutual. Their behavior and attitudes are actually worse now that they have a stricter teacher. He is so frustrated with their inability to remain silent for even a few seconds, that he told them they were like a "straight up special ed class." The sad thing is that he isn't exaggerating.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


A student in my first period asked me if I am pregnant. Way to start my day. (the answer is NO) I much prefer the "short" comments.

Monday, November 2, 2009


First, the good news: only 3 more weeks till Thanksgiving.

Last week I was observed by a classroom management consultant that was hired by DeKalb County to "assist" in low performing schools. Of course, this lady chose to observe my Freshman class in the 20 minutes that they have after lunch before the end of class. This is probably the worst 20 minutes of every day for me, but that's what she chose to observe. In my experience, when a teacher is being observed, the students are usually on their best behavior, whether it is to make themselves look good or to help out their teacher. Well, not my little darlings. They decided to go right on talking, walking around, eating, cursing, etc. I haven't heard the observer's official comments yet, but I'm sure I'll have to have some sort of training or action plan or something that sounds good but won't work.

Today, for reasons that have still not been revealed to me, my co-teacher (special education teacher) in my wild 4th period class, was traded. I now have a younger, much more intimidating co-teacher who, in the 30 minutes he was with us today, had already kicked out 2 students. I'll miss my first co-teacher, but think I am going to enjoy watching this class be scared of their new situation. After they were so rude and hateful toward the first teacher, I think they may be beginning to regret complaining about him.

I've gotten 3 new students in the last 4 school days. This is not ideal.

My geography class is moving along quickly, whether the kids are ready or not. Since they have 9 weeks to learn about the whole world, we spend about one week on each major geographical region. I don't think much of it is sticking with them, though, especially since we have pretty much no time to review. I handed one student a map of Asia today and he asked me if it was the United States. I'm failing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Time

There's just not enough time! Unfortunately, actually doing my job has taken priority over blogging about it. So, as I continue to work on lessons for the upcoming week, let me leave you with 4 quick observations/tidbits from last week.

1. I had 8 parent/teacher conferences on Thursday night... most were quite pleasant
2. There was yet another fight in my first period on Friday.... that makes at least 4 so far this year
3. Due to my ambiguous answers to their questions about my personal life, many of my students now think that my husband is black
4. This job is getting harder and less tolerable every day... this is the opposite of what I thought was supposed to happen

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wearing Down

Every Sunday afternoon, our principal (or, "illustrious instructional leader," as they call her on the morning announcements) sends out the "Monday Memo." This is an email attachment that describes all the events for the upcoming week and lets the teachers know what's on the agenda for the next 5 days. Unfortunately, this memo has actually become more a list of all the things teachers will be required to do: which day you have to miss your planning period to go to a meeting, the additional 30 minutes that has been added to the end of each faculty meeting, the new mandates for what has to be up on your walls (cart) or in your lessons. I admitted to my department chair that I cry every Sunday when I read the Monday Memo. He simply said, "Me too." Well, misery loves company!

I had a student ask me multiple times today if I am sick. Note to self: don't wear that yellow sweater anymore.

I was pretty excited this morning when I checked my mailbox in the teachers' lounge and discovered my school pictures. That's right, just like old times. All the faculty got a whole set of their yearbook portraits for free. So, all you regular blog readers, be expecting a wallet-size portrait of yours truly in the mail sometime soon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Will Work for Coffee

So, today I got to proctor the PSAT. What age group? Freshmen, of course. I can't get a break. At first, I was a bit upset about the whole situation, especially since this 3+ hour test was preventing me, once again, from having my planning period to do some work. All was forgiven, however, when the Assistant Principal came by with coffee for all the proctors. I felt quite content for a few moments while I sipped on my coffee and watched the students work on math problems.

The hours of proctoring gave me a good opportunity to do one of my favorite things: people watch. Granted, these "people" were 21 mentally strained freshmen sitting in a cold classroom, but there wasn't much else to do, other than make sure their ovals were filled in completely. While they were all relatively quiet and focused, I got a chance to see them a little more individually rather than as a big, unruly group of kids. Several of those 9th graders are in my classes, and I found myself wondering: Why does this girl always look so sad? Why does this student always come in late? Why can't this boy ever stop talking? Why did this boy bleach his mohawk and then dye it red? Why does he even have a mohawk in the first place? Maybe the PSAT was a break that I needed. I know I needed the coffee.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Real World Connections and a Long Weekend

One of the buzz words (phrases) for Social Studies education these days is "real-world connections." Instead of just learning the facts, students are supposed to be able to relate the information to events in the world around them. For example, rather than just learning when and where Christianity and Islam began, they would also need to understand the conflicts between the two and draw connections to issues in the Middle East today. Well, we really haven't gotten there yet. I'm having trouble just getting through the "facts" part of the lessons. The closest we've gotten to real-world connections was Thursday, when several of my students observed that the 8th century trading kingdom of Ghana sounds like gonorrhea. Hmm.

Friday was a staff development day (a.k.a. teachers still work, but no kids). The faculty met at the Holiday Inn in Decatur for our sessions. This was not nearly as sketchy as it sounds. The break from the students was really nice, and I was encouraged as I finally got a chance to talk with some of the other teachers. The faculty has really been the best part of the school so far. Maybe the fact that it is such a tough school has made them all draw close and look out for one another. I am so thankful for the friendships there. It's also comforting to know that I am not the only one in a constant state of frustration at the actions of the administration and the overall climate of the student body.

The mini-victory of the week: We are officially halfway through with Fall semester! My Civics class wrapped up with a final exam and we're moving on to Geography after Columbus Day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Plot Thickens

Well, we lost one. One of the new math teachers (new to Avondale, not brand new to teaching) quit yesterday. Apparently, she was so miserable that she called her husband, he told her she could quit, she packed up her stuff, and left. I heard all this from the Romanian World Language teacher who said that working at this school reminds her of living in Communist Russia. As sorry for myself as I feel, I fully acknowledge that the Math department has had it much worse (like a workshop last Saturday and constant visits from the county Math coach).

The funny thing is, now that one has left, the other teachers seem to be worried about me. I had a random teacher stop me in the hall and ask if she could do anything to help me, and then my department chair said, "You know we lost a teacher, right? You're not thinking that way are you?" I wonder why they think I might be next??? I guess I'm not the only one who noticed that I don't really belong in this setting.

Oh well. I'm not going to quit. Not in the middle of the semester anyway. I can't leave the kids halfway through. I still believe that I am there for a reason. I don't know how long that will be, but my responsibility is to my students. I don't blame the Math teacher for leaving. I just hope it will be a wake-up call for the administration.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Teacher or Poster-Maker???

Last week, the principal sent out an email informing all the teachers of ALL of the required posters/bulletin boards/display boards that had to be up. The email was sent on Monday; everything had to be completed by Thursday morning. The email included phrases like "this is not a request," "if your room doesn't look like this, we have a serious problem," and, my personal favorite, "floating teachers are NOT an exception, just tape it to your cart." Not that this means anything to anyone who hasn't taught in public schools in the last few years, but this is the list of required "cart hangings."

1. instructional bulletin board for each subject taught (must be typed, includes the standard taught, the task, the rubric, the circumstance, a sample of student work, teacher commentary)

2. a complete lesson plan format for each subject taught (includes the sponge, standard, explanation, application, synthesis, homework, and essential question- updated daily)

3. a data wall demonstrating some subject related data from each class taught, must be a chart of some type

4. a word wall for each subject taught, must include the appropriate amount of words, words must be typed and the wall must be clearly labeled "word wall"

5. ALL the standards for each class taught must be fully displayed (for me, this is about 16 pages of text in 12 point font)

Our principal called these things the "5 non-negotiables." So, after weeping and gnashing my teeth, I started making posters for my cart. Please notice the photos I've included. Keep in mind that the students can only see one side of the cart at a time, they don't even look at the cart anyway, I wasn't working on actual lesson plans or teaching methods while I was working on my "non-negotiables," I can't see anything on my cart, which makes it impossible to conduct a class with ease as I constantly lift up posters to find my stapler, file a late paper, etc., and, I look ridiculous rolling my overly-postered cart down the hall.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rock the Blue and White

It's time for Spirit Week. The theme: Rock the Blue and White. I'm not sure who came up with the theme. Actually, I'm not really sure if that qualifies as a theme. At my high school, we always had themes like, "Winter Wonderland," or "A Night at the Oscars"- themes that could actually be used in decorating. Nevermind.

Day one was "Tacky Day." Interestingly, it was actually pretty difficult to tell who was participating. Most students who claimed to be dressed up were wearing almost exactly the same type of clothes as a regular day. Clearly, I am not up on the latest fashions. I have a low threshold for what qualifies as "tacky."

Tuesday's theme is supposed to be "Flip the Script Day." Apparently, this is the urban translation for 'cross dressing.' I won't be participating tomorrow, either.

Try a little Tenderness

My sweet grandfather passed away last Tuesday. I wanted to remember him, celebrate his life, and grieve with my family without any interference from school, but it was inevitable that the two would overlap. On Wednesday, when I announced to my freshmen that I would be absent the following day, they immediately wanted to know why. As I explained the situation and the funeral plans, I teared up and had to stop speaking for a moment to regain my composure. During this moment, one of my most frequent discipline-problem students stood up, walked to the front of the room, and gave me a big hug. He then proceeded to sit and work quietly for the rest of the period. God is so good to give us strength just when we need it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rain Day

Dear DeKalb County,
Closing school for inclement weather tomorrow is the first wise decision you have made all year. Now I'm going to go dry off after my swim home today.
Miriam J. Camp

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Song in My Heart

It was a rough week. I won't attempt to describe it because I am trying hard to get through this "without grumbling and complaining." I'll just say that it ended with me calling about 20 parents after 4 o'clock on Friday afternoon. The good news is that six weeks have already passed and that means only 12 more weeks of school till Christmas.

A Jenny Owns song came to mind this morning as I was working on my never-ending lesson plans, and it reminded me that it isn't up to me to save the world all by myself. Time to chill out, Miriam.

"It may not be the way I would have chosen, when you lead me through a world that's not my own. But you never said it would be easy. You only said I'll never go alone."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh dear...

Conversation in Civics-

student: You know the President? Is he president of the United States and Canada?

me: No, he is just president of the United States.

student: Does that include Africa?

me: (trying to hide my dismay) No, just the 50 states in the US. You know the 50 states...

Thank goodness we start the Geography half of the 9th grade social studies course in a few weeks. It is supposed to be "World Geography" but I have a feeling we will be spending lots of time on more basic skills like north/south/east/west and the names of the oceans.

The students were given their progress reports today at the end of the day. We met back in our homerooms (mine is in the cafeteria) to hand them out. Since we share the cafeteria with DeKalb School of the Arts, we got to watch their dance class practicing while my little freshman homeroom got their first progress reports of the year. It was distracting. Then, I had to walk back through the crowded halls. I almost didn't make it to the safety of my department chair's room, as I was ambushed by a disgruntled student. I used some "foggers" (I understand, I see, uh huh, etc.) and kept walking. Maybe she'll forget about her bad grade by tomorrow. I'm really not looking forward to seeing my freshmen class tomorrow, since half of them are currently failing. Maybe the bad grades will inspire them to try harder... I can always hope.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Other Observations

Most days after lunch, I get a little chuckle while I am standing at the door of my classroom, waiting for the students to come back in. One of my 4th period students has a motorized wheelchair and he rides past me on his way back from lunch. That’s not the funny part. What makes me smile is that he speeds, like really fast, back down the hall, and I love watching the other students having to jump out of the way to avoid being hit. Plus, he is always singing some rap song whenever he is moving quickly. Maybe you have to be there, but it is amusing.

I would rather have a cold classroom than a hot one. Of course, as a floater, I don’t have much control over the temperatures of my teaching environments. Still, most rooms are usually on the cooler side. The students, however, hate the cold. The “cool” thing now is to bring a fleece blanket, preferably with some cartoon character on it, into the room and bundle up like they are in a meat locker. So dramatic. We’ve had several arguments in 4th period over kids stealing other kids’ blankets. Some of them are probably legitimately cold, but for others it is just a fashion statement or, more likely, a way to hide a cell phone while they are texting.

Today was the third time I've had to call the discipline office because of a near-fight in my first period class. The bell rang for class to begin and while trying to quiet everybody down, I noticed the same 2 guys yelling at each other from across the room. I still couldn't understand what they were saying, but could tell by their inflection that things could get ugly. So, another call to the office and the Discipline Principal came down and took them both out of my class for 3 days. Honestly, I'd rather not see them in there again.

The President and Me

Tuesday, despite protests, speech changes, and political agendas, President Obama addressed the nation's school children. I received an email that showing the speech in my class was not mandatory, but that if I didn't want to, I had to notify the administration so they could "make other arrangements for the students who wanted to view the speech live." Knowing that if I didn't show it, all of my students would protest and be taken out of my class so they could watch it somewhere else, I decided to turn it on and hope they would be inspired to be better students. The speech began at 12, right in the middle of my freshman class. I wondered whether they would be more respectful of the president they claim to adore than they are of me. Well, it looks like I'm in good company. I turned on the speech and was not able to hear one word of it due to the incessant talking. I mean, it’s nice and all that the president wants students to try hard and take responsibility, but the ones who really need to hear it, aren’t listening.

This week was frustrating as I realized that I am failing to “get through” to my students on so many levels. There are serious behavior issues in every class, but what really bothered me this week was a blatant double-standard that 2 of the classes believe but won’t admit. I like when they talk about issues and stories that they see on the news. This week, they brought up the Congressman that called Obama a liar during his address to Congress. Of course, my students were outraged and said it was so disrespectful and that nothing like this had ever happened before. When I reminded them that last year President Bush had shoes thrown at him during a speech, they started laughing and making comments like, “Well, he deserved that,” and, “I wish they had hit him.” I tried my best to reason with them calmly, explaining that it doesn’t matter who the president is, you can’t claim that one of those incidents is wrong and the other is acceptable. They couldn’t see it. The majority of them have apparently been brainwashed so far that they are beyond reason. I’m not trying to push my beliefs; I just want them to be fair and reasonable. But I think it may be too much to ask.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Freshmen, 1: Mrs. Camp, 0

I think they're winning. I'm about to give up on my freshmen. I am not exaggerating when I say that there is never, ever even one second that passes in 3rd period where at least one of the students isn't talking. It's like I'm not even there. I can stand right in front of a student waving at him and basically yelling for him to please stop talking so I can speak, and he will look right past me and keep on talking. They also seem to have trouble staying in their seats. I got stepped on today by a fairly rotund young man who had already been asked to sit 3 or 4 times. He could tell it hurt me, and he sincerely apologized, but was out of his seat again 5 minutes later. Of course, it doesn't help that we have one hour of class, a 25 minute break for lunch, and then 20 more minutes of class time. Every day when the bell rings for them to come back from lunch, I seriously consider crawling behind a desk and hiding until 4th period. I really don't think they would notice if I was missing.

This is my cart. Top level: Auburn cup with pens and pencils that the students steal, folders of handouts for both classes, lesson plan notebooks for both classes, and the overhead projector for those days when I'm feeling old-school high-tech. Middle Level: Trays to hold work from each class, extra paper, 3-hole punch, stapler, hand sanitizer to protect me from germy teens. Bottom Level: extra textbooks, boxes of school supplies which the students also steal.

In this picture, my cart is parked in my department chair's room. It used to be a science room, which is why there are lab tables instead of regular desks. I don't teach in this room, but consider it my home base in the mornings and afternoons. My department chair is kind enough to give me some storage space, the use of his computer and printer, and the secret hiding place
for the key to the locked storage closet.
The overhead projector in all its glory. There is something nostalgic about the fuzziness of the images it projects combined with the smell of vis-a-vis markers. It usually sits atop my cart, but sometimes I give it the day off. Even overheads need a break from freshmen every now and then...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Memorial Drive and the King of Pop

As scared as I was of Memorial Drive, I have to say that I'm growing fonder of this particular part of Atlanta. The lights of the jail at daybreak can be quite lovely against purple clouds as you drive up the exit ramp from I-285. The traffic is never an issue in the mornings (possibly because I am there before 7am). It is only in the afternoons that I have a problem with Memorial Drive traffic. Also, I have one word for the fine pedestrians of this area: CROSSWALK.

Friday was the beginning of the Blue Devils' football season. The school got in the spirit with a pep rally on Friday at the end of the day. I suppose it was a typical pep rally for DeKalb, although it looked nothing like my pep rally days back at Fellowship Christian High School. Even the Avondale tuba players were dancing in a way that would have gotten a Fellowship cheerleader expelled. Not to mention the Blue Devils Dance team. Wow. It's a good thing I wasn't asked to sponsor them. I clearly have a different vision of "appropriate" than most of those around me. Even so, I felt like the rally was a success. It certainly got me excited about the football season. I wish I had more time to enjoy the "school spirit" part of this job.

Kenneth and I decided to attend the game Friday night, and were joined by his parents. As we entered the stadium, I discovered the one perk of being a teacher; free admission. All my students on the team had worn their jerseys to school, so I wrote down all of their numbers in order to recognize them on the field. Everyone looks the same in shoulder pads and a helmet, you know. The Lithonia Bulldogs got off to a quick lead, but never scored again after the first quarter. I watched several of my students help lead the team to a 24-6 victory. It was pretty exciting, despite the fact that both bands' halftime shows featured the music of.... Michael Jackson. I'm not anti-Thriller, but seriously.

One interesting side note about the football program: Avondale apparently has one of the best football histories in the state. The winningest coach in Georgia achieved this title while coaching at Avondale in the 70s. Unfortunately, the team's recent record has been pretty bleak. Due to the school's successful past, there has been a recent push by alumni and coaches to restore the glory days of Avondale football. These alumni have formed the Touchdown Club, which raises money for the team and recently purchased new jerseys for the boys. The late middle aged white men all come to the games, sit together, get really into the game, and stick out like a sore thumb. Well, I guess I stick out too. It's nice to see lots of different people excited about the program. I think AHS needs all the support it can get.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

38 Hot

It's getting harder. I can't make the kids start studying and stop talking. Most of my freshmen all did miserably on their test today. I had students in 2 different classes tell me that I needed to be louder in order to get everyones' attention to make them stop talking. I tried it. It still didn't work. The primary effect of my talking louder was me almost throwing up after trying to give directions because I had been straining so hard to talk louder than the kids. Really not feeling like I'm the correct person for this job right about now...

So, I'll focus on something else. I learned some new vocabulary today. My big brother Ben has been asking me for some new vocabulary words since I started teaching at Avondale. This one's for you, Benny. The term: "38 hot" (adj.)

Here's the conversation where student #4 explained the meaning of "38 hot" to me.
#4: I'm 38 hot! Isn't that right Mrs. Camp? You know what that means?
me: Um, no. What does it mean?
#4: Like, really, really hot. You know what hot means?
me: Yeah, like good looking?
#4: No. Um, like when the police are chasing after you.
me: Oh, hot, like, stolen?
#4: Yeah, if you were in a stolen car you'd be 38 hot.
me: Ok, so it means highly sought after, wanted.
#4: Something like that.

There you go.

Monday, August 24, 2009

FIGHT! (almost)

Well, I was wrong. I thought my first period World History class was going to be the easy one. Those students are pretty low-key, usually pretty quiet and/or sleepy. That changed today. The class was working on an activity at their seats when Student #2 got up to sharpen his pencil. While he was up, Student #3 came into class with a late pass and went to sit down in Student #2's seat. Now, Student #3 usually sits there, and I don't know if he realized that his seat was already taken when he sat down. Either way, Student #2 walked over, demanded his seat back, and was unapologetically refused by Student#3.

I looked over to see the two boys standing inches apart, nearly yelling at each other. I had missed the whole seat-taking incident, and thought they were joking around (their voices were at the same level as many of my other students who play-fight with one another). I walked over to ask them to stop goofing around and suddenly realized that neither one was smiling. Fortunately, the teacher whose room I use during that period, an intimidatingly tall coach, happened to be in the corner of the room doing some work. Just as I figured out that I was about to have a serious rumble in my room, I heard the coach yell, "Separate. Do not touch each other! The first person to touch the other is going to jail! Back off guys!" The coach was immediately next to the guys, forcing them out of the classroom and down to the discipline office. They followed him out of the room, trash-talking and pounding their fists in their hands the whole way. Close call.

After they left, another student said, "Ms. Camp, why'd you get so close to them? You could've gotten hurt." Well, I didn't know it was a fight. I couldn't understand what either of them were saying. It would be helpful if the students could give me a heads-up next time I walk into a danger zone. So anyway, I'm really looking forward to having both of those gentlemen back in class in a day or two. I wonder who will get that seat???

In other news, my 4th period finally figured out how short I am. I'm surprised it took them this long. Student #1 walked up to the front to ask a question and promptly began waving his hand over my head, saying, "Uh, Ms. Camp, you're pretty short." Thanks for the input. Of course, the other students heard his comment and made the shortest guy in the class stand up next to me to compare height. And of course, I was shorter. I hope this class disruption helped his self-esteem.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week 2

Week two is over, thank goodness. Now I'm hoping things will begin to settle into a routine, although there are still students being added to my rosters. I still have a ton of work to do at night and on the weekends, but at least now I have an idea of what I'm supposed to be doing. Also, I have now learned of all my students names (well, I know what they are, but there are still a couple that I'm not sure how to pronounce).

I also just learned that student #1 from my last post is the starting quarterback for the football team. Apparently there are a lot of 10th grade varsity football starters in my 4th block World History class. I guess the school isn't really big enough to have all of the first string be upper classmen.

I've discovered that there are several Canadian students who moved here over the summer. I've met at least 4 of them and teach 2 of them. They all play football as well. I'm not sure why they moved from Canada to Avondale.... socialized health care must be really unpleasant. One of my Canadian students was telling his classmates how difficult it is to understand them when they speak. He said that they all have accents and they run all their words together. Then he told me that I pronounce everything correctly and that he can always understand what I'm saying. He is now officially my favorite student because no one has ever complimented me on my ability to speak. He didn't even mention my lisp. Talking with him made me feel so much better than that time at day camp when my 1st grade campers asked what was wrong me and why I didn't talk correctly.

In other news, the administration decided that we were using too much paper, and decided to restrict us all to 4 packs of paper per semester. Well, we can use more if we buy our own. This is an interesting decision, considering that we are all required to provide each of our 90+ students with a syllabus, print out multiple copies of our weekly lesson plans, and they still don't have the computer/projection screens in the classrooms working, which would drastically reduce the amount of things we would have to copy and hand out. Premier DeKalb County Schools...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hands and Feet

First, I just want to say how thankful I am for the friends and family that the Lord has placed in my life. I've always been thankful for them, but the past few weeks have opened my eyes to just how precious these people are. My parents and Kenneth's parents have brought huge meals, played with Amos, and offered prayers, little notes, and lots of encouragement. Friends have called to check in, offer advice, and Lauren Haws hand-delivered a massive bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Calls from grandparents, texts from brothers, messages from cousins, and a letter from my sweet aunt have all reminded me that, as tough as this job seems, I'm really not doing it alone. Not to mention my near-perfect husband who has kept me from hyperventilating every night with long hugs and cherry coke. These people are an answer to prayer.

I tried a little classroom management tip from Rachel Hyder this week. I noticed one particular student, let's call him student #1, sleeping in my class and being slightly disruptive while he was awake last week. On Monday, for some unknown reason, student #1 stayed awake and was actually participating in class, even raising his hand to answer most of my questions. So after school, according to Rachel's advice, I called #1's mom and told her that I really appreciated his participation in my class. I told her that I know he is a football player and that I think he really has the ability to be a leader in the class and set a good example. She sounded appreciatively shocked. The next day, student #1 tapped me on the arm as he walked in and said, "Hey Mrs. Camp!" He has continued to participate and hasn't fallen asleep since. Thanks Rach!

One down, 89 to go.....

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Routine

I like to have a routine. This might be my little way of feeling like I have some sort of control when everything else seems crazy. Though I'm only 6 days into the school year (less than 17 weeks till Christmas break!) I've already started trying to establish some sort of routine. So far, I've been at school before 7:00 am every day. Since the official school day doesn't begin until 8:10, I am usually one of the first in the building (the custodian and ROTC teacher always beat me there.)

My first stop is the teachers' lounge to put my lunch in the fridge and check my mailbox. Next, I usually have to make some sort of copies. The copy machine is in the very back of a room located at the very back of the Media Center. Since I'm there before the librarian, the media center is always completely dark. Unfortunately, I haven't located the light switch for the media center yet, so I fumble along in the dark till I can feel my way into the copy room. After making my copies (on days when the copy machine actually works) I make myself comfortable in my department chair's classroom, preparing for the day and pretending that I have my own room- until he shows up at 7:30. Fortunately, he is on saggy-pants duty in the mornings with most of the male faculty, so I have the room to myself again from 7:35 until 1st period begins.

I'm also discovering that teachers are required to do much more than lesson plan and teach. For the first 20 minutes of my planning period, I'm required to be on duty at the "Tardy Table." Basically, I sit at a table and record tardies and give passes to students who didn't make it into their classes before the bell. I actually look forward to this part of my day, because it's perfectly acceptable for me to sit and think about nothing in particular for 20 whole minutes.

I haven't set my routine for the second half of my day yet, no two afternoons have been the same so far.

Interesting conversation in 1st period World History:

-Me: What is a fortification? Does anyone know what that word means?
-Student: Isn't that like, having sex before marriage?
-Me: Um, no. That would be fornication. I'm referring to a wall or some form of defense....

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Kids these days...
I'm sure I'll have many observations to share in the coming months. This is just the first one that drew my attention. When I was in school, if I needed something from a teacher, I was expected to ask, "May I borrow a pen?" Or, "May I use the restroom." It wasn't really even acceptable to say, "Can I borrow" or, "Can I go," but the lenient teachers would let that slide. Well, my students have taken it a step further. If a student needs a pen, he says, "I can have that pen." If a student wants to use the restroom, she says, "I can go to the bathroom." I hear this statement-request form of asking permission multiple times a day. I'm considering correcting them, but it still throws me off so much when I hear it that I usually just respond with, "yes, you may."

The Michael Jackson sighting count has gone up to 6. And I've already lost count of the "Obama is our savior" references.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Toto, we're not in Dunwoody anymore

Well, I knew this would happen. I've been completely overwhelmed since the second school began, which leaves very little time for my cathartic blogging.

The first 3 days of school are thankfully behind me. Here is a brief snapshot of this week so far. All teachers are required (and evaluated on their performance) to enforce the new dress code. Now picture me telling a 6'3" black 18 year old young man to, "pull up your pants." It seems that the majority of students in the Avondale district wait till the first day of school to begin registering for classes, which means that our original class rosters were completely wrong. Even on the third day there were many new students in my classes. The fact that I wasn't on the attendance/grading system until this morning has also presented a few challenges. All of this plus the fact that, as a new teacher, I have no idea what I'm teaching, so my entire evenings are consumed with planning, studying, and soon, grading. Oh yeah, and I cried while talking to one of the Assistant Principals today. That was a shining moment...

There are no good stories to tell about my "crazy kids" yet. Unfortunately I am too stressed out to see the humor in anything school-related right now.

The ONLY reason I have made it this far is through the strength of the Lord, the prayers of so many family and friends, and the much-needed encouragement from so many people. It is tough, tougher than I expected, but I have hope. I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the people that love me can see it, and they keep me going.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ready or not...

Here it comes! So, it's the eve of my first day. For some reason, I am so much more nervous than when I started mid-semester last spring. Well, I say "for some reason," but I know exactly what the reason is: this is MY school year, from the beginning. I'm not picking up after someone who left. I'm in it for the whole year and I'm accountable. On one hand, I can't wait to meet my students, to talk to them, and to listen to them. I am definitely counting on them being the best part of this year. But on the other hand, I am stressed out about the no classroom, no desk, no idea what I'm doing situation.

In church this morning, the pastor called all high school students to the front so he could pray over them as they begin the new year. When he said, "Teachers, you come on up too," I jumped out of my seat and quickly made my to the front. I needed that prayer! It was such a blessing to see our Young Families pastor and his wife stand up behind me and put their arms around me during the prayer. I am so thankful for all of my family and friends who have been praying for me during this transition. It is such an encouragement to have support, real support, outside the world of public education.

Despite the stress, I am confident that this is where the Lord has placed me. It won't be easy, but we aren't called to live easy lives. I am thankful to have a job and am looking forward to getting into the swing of the school year. It seems daunting right now, and Kenneth will probably have to deal with a tearful wife pretty frequently for a little while, but it really will be okay. Maybe even enjoyable.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Premier DeKalb

Thursday was, by far, the most enjoyable day of pre-planning. Originally, I wasn't looking forward to the Professional Development day, especially when I found out I had to go all the way out to Stephenson High School from 8-4 that day to get "professionally developed" with all the middle and high school teachers from the county. But, the day started looking significantly better when my mentor teacher from my student teaching days at Chamblee emailed to see if I wanted to carpool with him and another Chamblee Social Studies teacher. So, not only did I not have to drive myself all the way out past Stone Mountain, I also got to catch up with some friends on the ride. The majority of the event was actually pretty good too. We got to select which sessions we wanted to attend. It surprised me how many people I know in DeKalb Social Studies. I ate lunch with the Chamblee High teachers, got hugs from the Dunwoody teachers, was able to catch up with some former classmates from GSU, and waved to some acquaintances from my days of subbing at Chamblee Middle. Too bad none of that had anything to do with Avondale....

Day 5 of pre-planning consisted of a yawn-invoking speech from the DeKalb superintendent, followed by a lot of running around and meetings. I have no idea if I'm ready for Monday. I am becoming more and more aware of the insufficiency of my own ability. I am only confident that the Lord placed me here for a reason and that He alone will get me through this year. And nothing will steal my joy...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roller Coaster

I might have secured a desk and a laptop! If this is true, then my expectations for this school year (at any DeKalb school) have already been exceeded. Also, since she presented the possibility of a laptop, I am quickly becoming a fan of the purple-haired, Obama-button-wearing librarian. Although the politically correct term is now "teacher librarian." Hey, if she can get me a laptop, I'll call her whatever she wants.

I met no parents today at the Open House, but I am pretty sure it's because no one knew where to find me. This is just one of the many gripes of a floating teacher.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tougher than I expected

Today's pre planning schedule included another long meeting followed by some time to "work in our classrooms." The second part was particularly difficult for me when I found out that I don't actually have a classroom. Or a desk. I instead checked out a cart from the library, got permission from a couple teachers to leave some materials in their rooms, and tried to take deep breaths so no one around me would realize that I was freaking out on the inside.

On a different note, I think the purple-haired librarian with an Obama button on her i.d. badge will be an interesting character to watch this year. And I am keeping count- including this i.d. badge, I've had 3 Obama sightings and 3 Michael Jackson references.

The most surprising part of this experience so far is the number of "War Eagles" I've received from my colleagues. I've met several Auburn fans and a few others from Alabama who respect Auburn football. One man even knows Damien Craig. The other new member of the Social Studies department is from Opelika and, after a brief discussion with her this morning, we discovered that she and my mother were best friends in elementary school. Small world. So, I'll have something other than school to talk about with some co-workers- at least until football season ends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Rest of the Story

So I learned a little more about the circumstances surrounding my reassignment while talking with my old department head from Dunwoody this afternoon. My assumption that I was transferred due to a drop in enrollment was wrong. I was replaced. By a basketball coach. Yeah.

However, I was comforted to learn that the DHS Social Studies department was upset to see me go, and that the department head even called the county to see if the principal really did have the authority to replace me just so they could hire a coach. Boo. They didn't even ask me if I wanted to be the head basketball coach- what were they thinking?!

Moving On................................................

Today was my first day as an AHS Blue Devil. Pre planning got started with a combo icebreaker/tribute to Michael Jackson. Do you know all seven #1 hits on MJ's Thriller album? Neither did I. I met my new department head who promptly informed me that AHS would be a "culture shock" for me. It was one of those moments where I felt like any response could be misinterpreted, so I just smiled.

I was thankful to be sitting next to another first year teacher and think I may have found a friend. I am sure this seating arrangement was not an accident, but an answer to prayer. I have also been befriended by an older African American gentleman, 2 years away from retirement, who has taken it upon himself to make sure I know what to do, who to talk to, the shortcut to the school, etc. It's nice to have someone looking out for me, although he did a poor job explaining why the Blue Devil's logo is a flying "A."

The entire day was one long training session. Apparently the DeKalb Superintendent wants all schools to pay more attention to discipline. The goal of the day was for the faculty to decide on 5 rules to post in all of our classrooms. We accomplished this mission in approximately 8 hours (including the Chick-fil-a lunch). The downside was that the program presenter from the county found it necessary to use me, the newest of the new teachers, in multiple role play examples. As if I needed something else to push me out of my comfort zone...
Here's my new home (except it is currently surrounded by fences and construction materials as they quickly prepare for DeKalb School for the Arts to move into a third of the building)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bait and Switch

Maybe I shouldn't jump to conclusions. The whole purpose of this blog is to document my experience as a (mostly) first time teacher. I'm entering this school year with the assumption that it will be tough, that my students will present many different challenges, and that my efforts to adjust to this new setting will exciting enough to write about on a regular basis. Maybe I'll be wrong. Maybe it won't be hard to adjust. Maybe my high school students will all love me and will behave and study hard in order to make me happy. Maybe this year won't be a challenge. Maybe.

Here is a summary of the events leading up to this school year. After receiving my B.A. in History and my M.Ed. in secondary social studies education, I found myself in the all-too-common state of unemployment. I began substitute teaching in DeKalb County, Georgia, hoping to be first in line if a high school social studies position opened up in the middle of the year.

After many frustrating months, with no ideas as to where to find a real teaching job, I began praying that the Lord would just drop something into my lap. Last March I was subbing at Dunwoody High School when the Assistant Principal informed me that the school was suddenly in need of a social studies teacher. Within 2 days I was a full-time, real, live high school teacher. The experience of starting my first teaching job with only 9 weeks left in the school year is a whole different story, but the important thing is that I was finally employed.

I made it through those 9 weeks, signed a contract with the county for the 2009-2010 school year, was told that I would be returning to Dunwoody in the Fall, packed up my school supplies, and went home to enjoy my first summer as a teacher. Dunwoody is consistently cited as one of the best schools in DeKalb County. It is closer to the suburbs than most of the other schools, and is in a nice, well-kept part of town. It has a very even mix of students and faculty members, and is only 4 miles from my house. Some might call it ideal.

With only 3 days left until I was supposed to report to Dunwoody to begin pre planning, I received a short email from the DeKalb Human Resources. "Miriam Camp, teacher at Dunwoody High School, is reassigned to Avondale High School. Please make the necessary adjustments in the system." And with that, I was transferred from one of the best schools to one of the worst. If you aren't from Atlanta, this may not mean much, but Avondale High School is off of Memorial Drive in Southeast Atlanta- very near a prison and a MARTA station. It is a failing school, which means that many students in that district who can afford transportation have transferred to other schools.

From what I can tell, this is a very different sort of situation from my brief time teaching in North Atlanta. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet, but I'll be there bright and early on Monday. I was angry at first, but am beginning to see this as an opportunity. Maybe I can make a difference. Maybe some of those students need me to care about them. Maybe this is a ministry. Maybe.