Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part Four: Analyzing the data; 2015 edition

I can’t believe that I forgot to post this!  Believe it or not I completed parts 1-3 about two months ago so this is a little late. 

But it’s also a really good update assessment tool.  So, I’ll leave the old text and add on current comments in bold.  Let’s see if I learned anything.

There is plenty to take away from my 2015 student reviews. 

-There seems to be a fine line between some students saying I’m fun and passionate, and some saying I’m mean.  I see two reasons for this.  First is that my temperament changes around November, which is probably connected to my energy level having to do with the start of basketball season.  I get a bit grumpier, a bit less patient, and my tolerance for tomfoolery and highjinks starts to wane.  The second reason has to do with the end of Homecoming, the holidays, and my attendance consistency.  Homecoming usually ends around mid-October, and at this point the students realize that school is not going to just be about floats, spirit rallies, insulting each other, and a bell.  They actually need to lock down and when the holidays show up, the academics start to slide.  Families take multiple week vacations, Winter sports start hitting student time management, and my standards remain consistent.  Push back commences and get labeled as mean.  Case in point; I had one student say that I was rude to students and colleagues, and that I had little or no respect for students, and that I was despicable.  That was the worst comment I got and was pretty much the only super negative one.  But if you read the rest of the students review one thing stands out over and over again.  Attendance.  I was power hungry with my tardy policy.  I was ridiculous with Attendance Contracts.  It was stupid that I would mark students tardy if they showed up ten seconds late.  It was an AP student that was pissed that past teachers didn’t hold the student accountable, probably because the student was in AP classes. 

So what do?  Well, I’m not changing my attendance policy.  At all.  We have become a culture that doesn’t want to pay attention to detail and the simplest detail is showing up on time and doing your work on time.  Ask around to businesses locally and they tell you that it is amazing that the youth labor pool expects the employer to adjust the schedule for the worker, not the other way around. 

The year is young and attendance is still an issue.  It’s clearly not being met with the same kind of anger as past years.  But grades will be coming out in the next few weeks and that will be an interesting first look at whether or not I’m a mean old bastard.

The second thing?  My summer trips have really gave me time to reflect on what it is to be a successful human being.  That sounds weird except that I can’t really describe it any other way.  I’m limited to the amount of human capital I can put to any one endeavor because I am, well, human.  Within that restriction I want to be the best husband, teacher, coach, citizen, person, advocate that I can.  But I’m suffering from scarcity, big time.  So the logical thing is to prioritize.  The problem is that I work in a job that has very interesting ideas on the concept of prioritizing.  I didn’t participate in summer basketball this year.  Instead (as you might have been reading) I took a summer long road trip to heal, strengthen, and engage my soul;  and I did it with my partner.  Well I took some criticism apparently, from some local coaches and some of  my program’s parents.  The commentary was that I wasn’t committed.  This is an insanely idiotic claim.  Here’s a little trivia; name the two active coaches who have coached the longest consecutive years in the North Bay League.  Go ahead, I’ll give you you a moment.


1)  Coach Brown – Ukiah High School

2)  Tom Bonfigli – Cardinal Newman High School

That’s a little bit cheating because Coach Bonfigli was involved with Cardinal Newman for some 15 years, left for awhile, and has coached at Newman since 2007.   I don’t see myself in the same galaxy as Bonfigli, and I’ve spent 13 of my 14 years as the Frosh and JV coach.  However I’ve pretty much committed my life blood for years to Ukiah basketball.  So, that argument is bunk.  I’m a teacher and a husband as well, and when you rank those things against each other…..well….the other people are the ones that seem to have it totally warped.  But who knows.  Maybe I make the change or maybe the change makes me.

I’ve actually heard nothing negative about basketball since the school year began and the numbers showing up for Fall Basketball (AAU) are better than they have been in five or six years.  We’ll see how it goes when the season starts.

-Ok, so I don’t know if you have noticed but the assignment thing is absolutely a problem for me.  I’m taking too long, again, to get assignments graded and there is no excuse at all for the delay.  This year I wanted to commit on getting things done quicker, and I didn’t.  I’m trying to figure out why this is and I’m just not prioritizing returning all papers.  I prioritize some but things like quizzes are put off in the grade book until later.  Note, students really didn’t care about getting the work back as a method of assessing their progress.  They wanted to know grades. 

And I’m still getting behind.

-Speaking of grades, I hate make-up work.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Let’s do a little pro/con list for make-up work

Pro:  Students might learn the material from retaking quiz.

Con:  Everything else.

Make-up work has created more work for me, taken up my lunch time, inflated grades, and created an entitled culture that has students dependent on make-up work.  Don’t worry about doing it right the first time, the safety net is there.  That ends.  Now.  It is a two year experiment that has resulted in no real academic progress.

-There is plenty of room for growth here and the great thing about what I do is that I’m continually excited to make my teaching better and better.  I still get those moments when the ideas whirl in my brain and I need to sit down and brainstorm engaging ideas that students will learn from.         

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Hey, remember when the week was totally taken over by Homecoming?

Fall is here.  The mornings are now crisp, the leaves have started to change and drop, and we are starting to see more animals running around now that the heat has started to dissipate.  Sure, we will still get a couple of mid-90 degree days but the heat is short lived because when the sun drops, Fall is in the evening air.


Homecoming was this week.  Because the theme was music genres and my Senior class had Rap/Hip Hop I tried to get into the mood.  It lasted three days.  Then I was fully prepared to take two days off because the whole process is a travesty of a mockery of a shame.  It’s also written like a reality television show.   I’ll leave it at that.  At least I got to listen to good music for most of the week.  The Senior skit had references to Easy-E, Fab 5 Freddy, and they played music from Que, Flo-Rida, Run-DMC, and Missy Elliott.  Ahh, the reminiscing. 


Attendance contracts have started.  My tardy policy is sort of like work; “If a student shows a consistent pattern of tardiness they will be placed on an Attendance Contract.”  If a student is tardy now and then tardy again in a month, I don’t really worry about it.  But over the last two weeks I’ve had students begin to test the policy (like cell phones).  One tardy- I mark it down and don’t comment.  Two tardies- I approach the student and ask them if they are having some issue with transportation or special circumstances (since 95% of tardies are 1st period and after lunch).  Three tardies- I tell the student they are tapped out of freebies for the semester.  I think it’s a fair system and the students, for the most part, seem to accept it. 


But not always.  1st period is one of my Advanced Placement classes every year.  Like clockwork, there is often a student (or two) that comes in late regularly and then if so furious that they are put on contract that it impacts the entire year.  That hasn’t happened this year but it happened last year, even to the point that the student basically called me a power hungry Nazi for issuing the contract.  See, AP students are never “sent to the office.”  Vice Principals often comment to me that the first time they see these students is their Senior year because of tardiness or cuts.  In my mind that means one of two things is happening.  One, students are reaching their Senior year and having a massive transformation to Senioritis mode, thus impacting their attendance.  Or two, someone is allowing these students to be late to class on a regular basis with no consequence.  It’s probably a little of both. 


Another assignment turned in online.  Another assignment that is harder to grade online.  Another reason I don’t like paperless assignments. 


It’s getting to the quarter pole of the year and my analysis of the overall year is that my classes are really damn good.  The number of students that are genuinely inquisitive is very high and more and more are starting to break out of their shells and contribute.  That’s a very positive sign going forward because the lessons get more and more interactive as the year goes on.  When they are involved classes are so much better. 

Day 20: Farmington, New Mexico to Grand Junction, Colorado via Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

We wanted to be gone by 6:30 and hiking some nice trails by 9:30 as our stay in the Four Corners, and the overall Southwest, was officially over.  We left Farmington and headed north along the Animas River into Colorado.

I love the mountains.  I really, really like the desert terrain of the Southwest but I love the mountains.  Durango is gorgeous in a way that makes me want to retire there but at the same time won’t allow me to because it’s too gorgeous.  Part of that gorgeous is expensive.  It’s as if someone wanted to put the ruggedness of the mountains on display for wealthy boomers and yuppie hipsters, then interspersed expensive stores and cafes in the mix.  We continued north and gaped at the mountains between Durango and Montrose, Colorado.  Waterfalls cascaded down snowcapped peaks with wildflowers in bloom and jagged peaks welcomed us to our new geography.  This stretch is known as the Million Dollar Highway and is considered by many to be the most beautiful road in all of Colorado.  We loved looking at it and researching it later, well, it makes sense that it is considered so fantastic.

Our destination was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which wasn’t even an option until a month ago when it showed up on a National Park calendar, and then received a seal of approval from a friend of my wife.   We had originally decided on a quick visit before Needles/Canyonlands but it changed when Grand Junction became the next stop.  We changed our lodging and made our way to Black Canyon.  Road tripping on the fly is awesome like that.  

What a nice treat.  The canyon is not necessarily wide (Grand Canyon) or super expansive (Canyonlands) but instead the landscape was a deep, short gorge that had fantastic black/gray coloring and steep spires.  We were tired of because of the drive and did a couple of short overlooks on the South Rim, saving the long hike for tomorrow.  One walk was by the Visitor’s Center and yet again we were accosted by a snake, although this time it was just a rather large garter snake so no worries.  All the views were fantastic, although both of us were very impressed with The Painted Wall; an immense cliff (the largest in Colorado) that was colored in black and grey, with veins of almost white running through it.  After hitting the outlooks we drove through a couple of thunderstorm cells to Grand Junction.

We are staying at a renovated 1960’s style drive-in motel in the middle of Grand Junction.  It came highly recommended by Trip Advisor although right now I have my doubts.  It’s cheap, that’s for damn sure. 

Trails hiked:  Oak Flat Loop, Warner Point, various overlooks.

Miles hiked:  4.5  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The week that can only be reached by cell phone

Hey guess what?  We are a quarter of the way through the semester!  That’s right!  Cinch notices went out this week and that means we are going to get some of those students wondering were grades are at….when they aren’t thinking about Homecoming.


Oh yeah, and Homecoming is this week.  It’s been less invasive than past years, mainly because it looks like some students are realizing that it provides limited benefit for the time people deal with it.  I’ve heard a lot of the “the popular kids” take over the situation from students, and that ends up turning off a lot of people.  Normally those popular people also have parents with money and that money often comes with strings, and that leaves the opinion of others on the margin. 


The item of the week is the cell phone.  I have a policy that is simple and to the point; if it’s out when it’s not supposed to be out I take it for 24 hours or until the student’s parent comes and picks it up, whichever comes first.  I’ve dealt with about a dozen phones so far this year but this week was the real tester.  Four phones this week, three had parents actually come to my classroom to pick them up.  Mind you these are Seniors in high school.  About 70% of parent interactions when this happens are very positive.  The other 30% are angry but it seems more geared towards the student.  After this week I’m guessing phone use is probably going to drop a lot because the message has started to travel.


Fall Basketball started this week and means late evenings twice a week.  It also means that I get to bed quite a bit later and have a better chance of being tired during the school day.  I was a tad flat at the beginning of 2nd period on Tuesday when a student came in an said “Brown, where’s the energy?  This is my favorite class because of the energy!”  That helped but it will take me a week to adjust.


Speaking of Fall basketball….over 30 kids!  That’s a fantastic improvement over the last five or six years when we barely have had enough players to field a team.  It looks like the older kids are raring to go and a large group of young basketball lovers is heading into the high school.  Hoop life is good!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 19: Chaco Canyon National Park

Chaco Canyon is known for two things.  It is the greatest collection of Native American pueblo ruins north of Mexico, and road to get to it is a bitch. 

We woke to rain and decided to risk the nasty road and headed back south towards County Road 7900, the turn-off to Chaco.  The problem with the road is not the first eight paved miles.  Those are great.  It isn’t the next nine miles of county paved road.  That was well graded and was an easy 50 mph ride.  It was the last four miles that was quite a bit dicey.  At its best the road is washboard with groves and washouts, plus a crossing over a very large wash.  If it is raining at all you are looking at an ugly ride in which you might have a problem in the wash.  If it is raining hard there is no way you are passing that four miles, meaning you might be stuck in Chaco Canyon for awhile.  We got through but were constantly watching the clouds all day.

Chaco Canyon is a community with different townships and a history that is unbelievably deep.  We spent over five hours just exploring the different houses on the loop road but never worked up the nerve to hike up the canyons, mainly because we kept hearing thunder throughout the day.  The Great Houses of Chaco are some of the largest in the entire country.  My wife and I read all the signs, bought the guidebooks, and walked all over the ruins trying to imagine the sights and thoughts of the inhabitants.  There is a feeling that overwhelms a person walking within the remains of such an ancient civilization.  What were they thinking when they looked at what I was looking at?  Why did they leave?  How did they manage to irrigate crops on only nine inches of water a year?  The entire afternoon was about investigating the massive structures of Chaco, and it was an experience. 

But the rain started around 2 p.m. and the thunder was closing in.  The road left us little choice; it was time to leave.  We were sprinkled on as we went across the wash and made our trek back to the highway, and ended up being thankful because a thunderstorm warning went into effect about the time we entered Farmington. 

After a small picnic on the Angus River we wine tasted some New Mexico bottles at a local place in Farmington and found that the bubbles were excellent, the Syrah was god-awful, and that the Cab Franc was very pleasant.  But none of it was really worth the Napa prices they wanted for it.  We bought a bottle of bubbles and a cheap Zin and called it a day.     

Trails hiked:  All those really neat houses at Chaco Canyon.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The week sure can’t make up its mind

It rained this week.  It wasn’t a warm, summerish rain that doesn’t give you any sense of real refreshment.  Nope.  This was a cool, fall rain.  It was a rain that was welcome along with the cold chip in the air that made me think happy thoughts of warm blankets, hot chocolate, and dark evenings. 

It was 101 today.


The difference between an average teacher and better teacher could be something as simple as energy.  By now the students are in the unfortunate rhythm of school; the glazed looks complimenting the constant state of whining about boring classes and useless work.  What students are looking for is passion and energy.  I’m still at the door, the music is still playing as they enter, and I’m still whipping around the room being slightly loud, mildly sarcastic, and almost totally obnoxious.  Students are also engaged.  Don’t get caught up in normality.  Keep up the energy!


Aluminum Overcast was in town this weekend.  No, not some kind of sleazy hipster college-radio band.  This is Aluminum Overcast:

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Over the last three days I’ve been hearing the roar of a B-17 over Ukiah.  It’s fantastic!  Unfortunately I can’t bear ponying up the $475 for twenty-four minutes in the air but watching it fly around the valley is a treat in itself.


Two week long Short Term Independent Study contracts already.  Not even a month into the year and parents have already started to pull their kids for vacations because the two plus summer months, the week in November, the week in March, and the two weeks in December apparently are not enough.  Not that I’m bitter.  I’m to the point now where I have a pre-made slip of paper that says:

-You are responsible for the work.

-You are responsible to make up all quizzes and tests.

-Everything is on Google Classroom.

-This choice may not be in your best interest academically.

What will happen is they will go on vacation, do none of the work, come back knowing none of the material, and end up probably with a full letter grade lower.  My class is very intensive IN MY CLASS.  I don’t give a lot of busy work.  I’m selfish like that.


Our department has found some energy again.  For a couple of rough years people sort of hunkered down in their rooms and kept to themselves while the trials of tribulations of the school and the economy had their way with society.  Now we are back out and engaging each other with new ideas and words of wisdom and support.  It might be fresh admin, it might be fresh teachers, and it might be that we are all tired of living in caves and would rather exist in communities. 


Genetically I’m gifted in that I can pretty much play any sport.  I can’t play any sport great but I can go out and not totally embarrass myself.  I can still easily run with the varsity hoopsters.  I can play a good First Base while legging out a double here and there.  Golf?  I’ll do a little over 100 consistently.  Hell, I’ll manage in tennis and disc golf just fine.  Friday it was volleyball.  I had a blast partly because the students make me feel young again, and partly because it’s a competitive atmosphere.  Sure, the faculty consisted of mostly people that are not spiker proficient.  But who cares.  We had a good time and I got a couple of kills that made the varsity football players give an ohhhhhhhhh.  I’ll take it.  

Day 18: Bernalillo, New Mexico to Farmington, New Mexico via Petroglyphs National Monument and Aztec Ruin National Monument.

Today was not a rough hiking day.  It was an open day meaning that we really had no idea what we were doing except that we had to end up in Farmington. 

We were mellow getting up once again and started back towards Albuquerque and Petroglyph National Monument.  Petroglyph is actually four trails; three on the east side that contain petroglyphs, and one on the west side that is mainly volcanic.  The three trails on the east side are actually right next to subdivisions within Albuquerque, and yes, the city noise does make for a more subdued experience.  But we started on the least crowded and northern most trail, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, by about 7 a.m. and enjoyed it the most.  It had the least amount of people and you could get up close to many petroglyphs.  The middle trail, Boca Negra Canyon, also allowed for up-close-and-personal with the symbols but was more crowded and seemed to attract more of the city noise.  The most popular trail was the worst; Rinconada Canyon.  It was popular, hot, sandy, and you had a fence that kept you away from the rocks, thus the only we you could get a good view of the petroglyphs was using binoculars.  Done with our symbolic trails we headed north.

We were thinking Santa Fe today but Petroglyphs actually took up nearly five hours of our time, so off to Farmington we went.  Note to those wanting a really underrated drive; the views of the geology from Bernalillo to Bloomfield are excellent.  They are a combination of the Paria area in Vermillion Cliffs and the Waterpocket District of Capital Reef, just on a smaller scale.  We thought about taking the dirt trek out to Chaco Canyon today but the monsoon was already forming so we headed up to another urban National Monument; Aztec Ruins. 

I’ve got to admit, we were a bit disappointed when we arrived at Aztec Ruins in that it was basically in town.  We like rural.  We like “hard to get to.”  We like very few people.  But the ruins are fantastic, and the massive collection of rooms and Great Kivas got my wife and I really excited for Chaco Canyon tomorrow. 

Trails hiked:  Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon,  Piedras Marcadas Canyon., Aztec Ruins.

Total Miles:  4.2