Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Run up to the end

The end is sort of but not really in sight now that Spring Break is over.

We only have about a month and a half before graduation sets in but AP tests are coming, State testing is next week, and the job of dragging Seniors over the finish line is getting harder and harder than ever.  My wife and I tried to avoid the topic of school on our Spring Break road trip but inevitably it comes up when we are driving from point to point.  How am I feeling about the profession right now based on those discussions?

-I still love teaching.  That hasn’t changed at all.

-But the job is getting harder and harder because our school system (state and local) suffers from it’s own public pressures to symbolically perform.

-The State has told schools to stop suspending so many students so schools are simply not doing anything and calling it good.  Call it Restorative Justice.   Call it Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.  I’m calling it a joke.

-Attendance at my school is terrible.  Nothing is being done about it.

-Students are looking for the easiest (not necessarily the most effective) way to a high school diploma. This is not new.  What is new is that the school now paves the road down that easy path; whether it is the dozens that are in Independent Study or the grade inflation that helps promote graduation rates.  It’s sad.

-Local doctors are complicit in this.  I’ve now witnessed multiple students simply walk into a doctors office pissed off that they have to go to school and walk out with a diagnosis of social anxiety.  Doctors get patients, students don’t have to show up for school, district gets money for students in the joke that is Independent Study, and graduation rates stay high because students don’t actually have to show up.  The problem is that students are not getting educated and nobody really cares.

Man, it sounds like I really hate my job.  Nope.  It’s the total opposite.  I love my job and I hate watching Education eat away at any standards from the inside.  Whenever I step back and take a long look at the system, I find that we are failing at our jobs not because there aren’t people that want kids to succeed.  Teachers and administrators and parents want kids to succeed.  It’s that the definition of success has now become one of a complacency.  We are really becoming the diploma factory that doesn’t prepare for the next level of life because that’s what is desired by society.  All this conversation about high standards are laughable because the standard is not to let them fail.  Hell, the slogan a few years ago that was hanging in our hallway at Ukiah High School was “Refuse to let them fail!”  Drag them across the finish line and tell them they have done good, even if they didn’t. 

Ok.  Breathe.  Work harder, smarter, and be the high standards that you desire.  Demand excellence and support those that wish to achieve it.  Make the diploma worth something. 

Make education worth something.   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Safe Haven

Last Thursday, amusingly coinciding with A Day Without Immigrants, Ukiah Unified School District become a Safe Haven District. 

What does that even mean?

“In this time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear I strongly encourage you to join me in declaring our public schools “safe havens” for students and their parents and to remind families about existing laws that protect them and their students’ records from questions about immigration status.”

That was from a letter sent to California schools from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson back in December.  School districts around the state have complied with the recommendation (not an edict) and Ukiah joined the ranks of the many last week. 

If you are one of those people that are about to bounce off the ceiling regarding schools sheltering illegal immigrants then I’ll throw these two things out to you.

First, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler vs. Doe that schools must enroll students regardless of immigration status.  We have a legal obligation and that pretty much wraps up the legality end if you are pushing that route. 

Second, if you know of a teacher that changes their teaching based on the immigration status of a student, go into their classroom and give them a wedgie.  Seriously, pull that underwear straight up over the back of their head and force them to shake themselves into the moral obligation they have to kids.  There are so many thing wrong with assuming a teacher cares about immigration status that I don’t even know where to start.  But I’ll try this one out for all those that bleed red, white, and blue.  I actually had to sign a patriotic oath when I received my credential from the State of California.  Can you believe that?  A real, honest to goodness patriotic oath.  One of the more patriotic things I can think of is teaching kids of every nationality that the United States is an exceptional country.  It may not have the most exceptional Chief Executive at this point but the ideals that this country was founded on should be shared as being something profound.  People that want to deny that are dwelling in the realm of nativism that this country has been dealing with, unfortunately, every few generations. 

For the most part the community has been very supportive of the Safe Haven status.  After all, we do live in a community that has been regularly breaking Federal law with our local marijuana culture for decades so ignoring the Executive Branch isn’t going to be something strange and new.  I wonder what the County Sheriff has to say.

“I personally believe that the community can accomplish a lot more when they have not become a lightning rod,” (Sheriff Tom Allman) said. Allman believes that the schools and local governments could quietly communicate with the Hispanic community that they plan to follow the laws — which require signed warrants and prohibit schools from disclosing information anyway — rather than take loud public stands.

“I think the school board should have at least talked to the Sheriff’s Office, because we are the ones who enforce the laws here. The fact is, they can’t legally keep a federal agent off campus. What they’re doing is rattling their saber and becoming a lightning rod, when all we have to do is respect the laws that are already on the books and accomplish the exact some thing.”

“Emotions can scare people and emotions can calm people,” Allman continued. “By declaring a school district a Safe Haven they’re creating emotions on all sides, and there are 20 sides to this conversation. The very people the school people are trying to protect become more scared.”

The “quietly communicate” stance is interesting since Tom Allman has been on nearly every media outlet in the country talking about how Mendocino County routinely ignores Federal statutes about weed; from CBS to the PBS Newshour, from MSNBC (where he mentioned Ukiah becoming like the Old West) to HBO’s Vice.  I like Allman because it seems like he genuinely has the community’s best interest at heart but I don’t really understand the keep-it-quiet stance.  The local Latino community has very limited representation but has a mammoth contribution to the Ukiah Valley in terms of social and economic progress.  Keeping quiet sends the wrong message.

Nothing will really change at the school except for the weekly ICE sighting scare that is usually the result of the rumor mill.  Otherwise it will be business as usual.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Not quite the typical Thursday

So here was my attendance rate from this previous Thursday.

1st:   4 absent for 85%
2nd:  8 absent for 71%
4th:   12 absent for 61%
5th:   12 absent for 60%
6th:   9 absent for 47%

With the exception of first period, that's not a normal day at the office.  For a standard weekday that butts up against the weekend you might see 3-4 absences in each class with sixth period pushing more.  But Thursday was an unusual day.  Let's see what was going down on the sixteenth day of February, 2017.

-Field Trip to Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento.
I have some serious issues with private vocational schools that promise job positions, especially those that when you search for them it brings up quarterly revenue results for shareholders.  This grabbed four kids.
-Long Term Vacation students.
If people are really serious about schools and formal education then parents might not want to pull kids out for multiple weeks for vacations.  In the Fall, it's hunting.  In December, it's Mexican families.  In February, it's cruises/trips to the tropics.  In the Spring it's college visitations and trips to Europe.  This year I've had a dozen students do this and it's not yet March.  This week there were four.
-Early four day weekenders.
We had Friday and Monday off for President's Day, thus making the weekend a full four days.  It is not surprising in the slightest that some students left for the longer weekend.  If you are somehow surprised by parents and students engaging in this behavior then you don't work in pubic education. 
-That other thing.  Wait, let me think......

Oh yeah, that.  

There is a good chance I lost quite a bit of my student population to a boycott that was related in part to education.  First of all, boycotting education is fundamental idiotic.  Boycotting public education is beyond idiotic since we are one of the institutions that doesn't discriminate based on immigration status.  I wrote the following on my Facebook page so students could view it. 
"Immigrants come to this country because they find opportunity. That opportunity revolves around the idea that labor is exchanged for a fair wage, and children have the potential to live better lives than their parents if they develop their human capital to a greater potential.
Immigrants come from around the world to attend schools in the United States; whether it's the children of Mexican migrant farm workers in at a high school in Salinas or the children of factory workers in Shenzhen with a child in the University of Kansas, there is a realization that this country still presents an opportunity that is unparalleled on planet Earth.
Students that boycott education on a day that protests restrictive immigration policy are defeating the purpose of Day Without An Immigrant. Boycotting people that seek to empower your abilities achieves little. You may be able to vent frustrations but it will be to a society that questions your motives anyway, thus the status quo remains. Learn and be empowered and suddenly society will listen because you are knowledgeable, they will follow because you are powerful, compassionate, and trusted. You won't simply shout into the air you will dictate policy in communities, states, industries, and countries.
Teachers planning to boycott their jobs should reconsider the message they send to immigrants seeking opportunity. What message do you send by telling students that seek a better life to stay home? What does your absence say about your own stance on the education system, on your own classroom that not being there to develop skills and knowledge is the primary objective? You prove the point that immigrants are important to the United States by leaving kids less empowered to improve their future livelihood? That's a questionable philosophy, one that easily confuses personal agenda and activism with actual empowerment."
A couple of my former students jumped in and said that activism was the only route that was going to work for the current state of the failed institutions in the United States.  Can't say that I agree, especially when you look at the activism that exists in my high school.  Let's say that the late day absences were from the protest.  I wonder how that massive presence worked out downtown?

That's a reporter for the local newspaper that confirmed what others found out about the protest; that it only contained about 20 or so people.  After viewing pictures of the event I can confirm that the overwhelming majority of my students were not part of the protest.  It was a day off for many students that cared nothing about the message or the education.  Oh, and there were teachers that were simply giddy about the absences being a symbol of resistance against Trump.  That's one idiotic symbol.
How was your Thursday?

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Saturday, February 04, 2017

My own little protest.


And there’s my colleagues. 

Last week a group of 16 fellow teachers met across the street during lunch to protest the Senate confirmation of Betsey DeVos, nominee to be Secretary of Education.  There are two reasons I didn’t jump into the melodrama behind DeVos’ confirmation.

First, I don’t like the idea of bringing politics of individual teachers into the classroom.  I can get political here, on Facebook, and on Twitter but the classroom is a location where influential adults are trying to get young kids to critically think.  That becomes problematic when teachers preach elements of their political ideology as the normal social narrative.  Students start believing rhetoric and developing their own paradigms around the emotional logic of the instructor instead of looking at facts and, when dealing with government, actual laws.  My first 15 minutes of every class, every day is reeling in the concept of saying “that’s unconstitutional” is the solution for everything and trying to calm the nerves of 17 year olds that have been told the concentration camps are right around the corner.   But social justice and activism is sexy while providing a massive amount of signaling for like minded groups that seek change within society in Mendocino Country.  I’ll pass.  I don’t like the idea of being hypocritical; of cloaking critical thinking under a veil of activism while espousing emotional safety for those that only agree with a teacher’s view of the world. 

Second, federal involvement in education and the power of the Secretary of Education has been massively overblown.  The comments that DeVos would destroy public education, especially in the State of California, are wildly over exaggerated.  So she kills Common Core, enforces state’s rights to education, and dabs into voucher programs.  Meh.  I don’t like it very much but it’s not putting public education on the brink of Armageddon.  Would I actively protest a government action?  If I was really, really passionate about it, yes.  But it’s going to have to be a whole lot more than the Secretary of Education’s Senate Committee Confirmation Hearing. 

Now, I did engage in my little symbolic anti-DeVos moment of fighting-the-power.  On the ‘Wear Red for Ed” day of protest I wore a nice red tie and kindly answered that I was not going to protest across the street at lunch (for the record, nobody asked about the tie color).  So if I just explained why Betsy wasn’t that big of a deal, why the little protest? 

1)  She’s has no experience in public education.  It really helps to have knowledge in the area that you will be overseeing and DeVos has zero.  That’s not necessarily terrible if she worked towards acquiring a strong foundation in preparation for her job except that…..

2)  She still had no idea during her confirmation hearing.  I spent an entire course in college about students with special needs and I’m fairly sure I know more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act than DeVos. 

Now, that alone should be enough to disqualify her from office and this is coming from someone who things the system needs to be strongly changed because the system is clearly failing a lot of students.  The one lifeline she has is her charter school experiment in Michigan.  Wait…

3)  Her Michigan Charter School experiment was a total failure.  Bringing in a controversial failure to fix systemic issues in public education, a system she has no knowledge of, is probably a bad idea. 

4)  Betsy DeVos donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that advocated gay conversion therapy.  

Enough already.  Make her go away.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cleaning up the daily dumpster fire


Donald Trump has done a great job in making my job a whole lot harder.  His election mixed with the intensely politicized vibe of a Mendocino County public school staff creates a fifteen minute daily briefing that works towards putting out fires created by the new idiot in charge and the troll-easy opposition that’s ready to overthrow the government (albeit with no guns). 

The informational fires have been nicely put into four categories of Trump/Resistance stories by Nate Silver; founder of FiveThirtyEight.com.

Level 4:  Regular Presidential stuff that’s been exaggerated.  The Executive hiring freeze was a great example of something that happens all the time in Presidential hand-overs (especially party switches) and was treated by many parents and staff as the beginning of total information break down.  Also at this level are the typical “elections-have-consequences” clause like signing off on the reinstatement of the Keystone XL pipeline.  You don’t have to like some of the policies but they are neither abnormal from an institutional standpoint, nor abnormal from a Republican policy standpoint.

Level 3:  Premature or misreported rumors that are either false or have already happened.  The removal of abortion funding from international organizations was portrayed in some places as the end of abortion rights for the United States.  Seriously, I really had students coming in saying that the Executive Order was ending Roe v. Wade and that X teacher had read up extensively on the presidential decree.  The problem is that A) It was not unprecedented, B) It had nothing to do domestic policy,  and C) Executive Orders don’t override SCOTUS cases.  So I explained the history and exactly what the policy says.  The kids can develop their Frame of Reference from what’s real, not emotional logic.

Level 2:  Sensational but inconsequential stuff that Donald Trump does to troll and distract.  The nonsense over the crowd size and the commentary over the illegals voting in California and New York would fit here.  It’s also safe to say that some things at this level could drift into Level 1 but at this point you simply keep presenting an overwhelming amount of information to push back the idiocy of the comments. 

Level 1:  Genuinely unprecedented and troubling actions.  The 20% Import Tax has some serious economic ramifications that those need to be economically investigated.  Trump’s refugee ban with a religious exemption mixed with his unprecedented lack of organizational preparation is much more disturbing.  I need to research the hell out of this thing and come to class with realistic possible outcomes, a history of this kind of action, and the overall context of the policy angle in relation to everything else. 

People talk about the Resistance to the President.  Everybody has their own way of resistance and mine is to educate people using reality and evidence, not emotional logic and hyperbole.  But the teaching days are getting more and more difficult and as the Social Science classes at Ukiah High School become the neutral zones for political discourse, it’s our job to step it up and be ready. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Burger absence

About 10 kids were absent from my fifth period class today.

I wonder why.



Monday, January 23, 2017

A memorable and historical march. Except…

Angela Peoples and her lollipop made that image with a purpose.

“(The photo) tells the story of white women in this moment wanting to just show up in a very superficial way and not wanting to do the hard work of making change, of challenging their own privilege. You’re here protesting, but don’t forget: the folks that you live with every single day—and, probably some of the women that decided to come to the march—voted for Trump, made the decision to vote against self-interests to maintain their white supremacist way of life.”

I’m still trying to figure out how a political movement succeeds by leveraging guilt and racial discrimination against the very people you want to convince to join your struggle.  It’s fairly nonsensical and any person that thinks that the privilege-as-pejorative narrative along with casually throwing around white supremacy will enhance changes in gender and racial equality are talking into really narrow echo chamber.  It will instead empower people like President Trump.

“Without an effort by white women especially to make sure those spaces (marches and rallies) are reflecting the diversity of women and femme people, we’re not going to make the progress we need to….. I need them to recognize they are implicit or complicit benefactors of systems like white supremacy and patriarchy—and that’s a problem.”

No, you really need to work on your skills of empowerment because telling people to listen to you and then shaming them into first guilt, then victimization, probably doesn’t really fit the mold of an successfully organized movement towards equality. 

And I’m way in before:

-You’re white.

-You’re male.

-You’re cis.

-You’re privileged.

-You’re a misogynist.

What I really am is a person that truly believes in equality, that has worked much of my life for that equality, and that’s willing call out something that I think is damaging to that goal.