Monday, February 27, 2006

WIth a watchful eye

I love the rain. Something about listening to the rain with the windows open, or going out in the rain and feeling it cleanse the world's problems, it just makes me love the rain.

Unless the rain is so hard, so quickly that it floods my house. For those of you just joining us, it did that on December 30th. Well, the clouds have been dumping a significant amount of rain on us again, which makes me look up at the heavens with a tad bit of irritation. Another warm storm has parked itself over Northern California, this time we have had around 6 inches in about two days, and the amount is expected to grow.

But seriously, my house isn't in danger. The December flood was one of those odd, rare events that doesn't "ever" happen, if you get my meaning. We had two weeks of nearly straight rain, followed by a mammoth storm that dumped hours of water over Mendocino County. This is simply a lot of rain over the next few days. But it is odd, having this new feeling. I keep telling myself to get over the whole issue of renewed flooding, since it may never happen again. It had never flooded in this subdivision since it was built in the late 1960's. It may never flood again.
Fine and dandy, but it could just let up a little bit.

Friday, February 24, 2006

More additions

Currently, I have 67 blogs that I observe through Bloglines, but it is time to place some of those that I read more regularly on my Blogroll.

A Constrained Vision: Katie is from Washington D.C. and I've been reading her work for a rather long time. Her posts are great reads, and I often myself drawn into responding to them out of irritation. Good irritation :)

Assorted Stuff: The heading is "Just What it Says". AS's site is exactly that. Not only is the blog a good read, check out the links to sites that are great for enhancing the classroom experiance.

Plugged In Teacher: The posts are always quick, but the gold nugget links that Plugged In finds are excellent! If you are into technology at all, P.I.T. is a must for your daily reads. Thanks to Plugged, I now have X-Files fonts on my Power Point notes!

Mentor Matters: Ms. Ris brings the world of Special Education into the light with her insightful posts. Think you have it rough, try teaching Emotionally Disabled students.

I have plenty of others that I'll stick on during a later date.

Ball Four

Darren over at Right on the Left Coast (check my blogroll) nailed me with a meme that has to do with fours. Here's a little about me, some of which you might already know:

Four Jobs I’ve Had
1. Teaching: Obviously the single greatest job I've ever had, and one in which I will happily do forever. It also helps to be at a great school.
2. Ice delivery: In Sacramento I worked for Mid-Valley Ice, and drove a truck around to different businesses who begged for the frozen water when their machines broke down. I was "comped" a ton of stuff and the job was a blast!
3. Parking cars: I parked cars for snotty doctors at San Juan Hospital in Sacramento. The job was ok, the hours were shit and the people I worked for were idiots that thought that parking cars was better than sex.
4. Office assistant: Yes folks, I was worked in a dentist office in a little town called Durham. It was simple work, but the conversation was excellent, the staff was great, and I know enough about teeth to keep mine intact!
5. Security guard: When I was scrounging for any money I could, I worked at night with a security outfit. Get this, I sat in my car overnight at an orchard and airfield in the middle of the Sacramento Valley. After harvest, people often had the harvested items stolen. It was easy money and allowed me time to get homework done.

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over
The Empire Strikes Back
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Pulp Fiction
Do the Right Thing

Four Places I’ve Lived
1. Ukiah
2. Chico
3. Sacramento
4. San Jose

Four TV Shows I Love
1. Battlestar Galactica: If you are still stuck in the sci-fi stereotype that Galactica is 70's nerd candy, then you are missing out on the best show on television. Get over it and watch.
2. Lost: Second best show on television. The back stories make the series, while the mysteries add to it.
3. West Wing: The return has been excellent and the loss of John Spencer is a major blow to the future of the show. Watch it while you can!
4. Imus in the Morning: Every day in my classroom, I listen to the I-Man on my prep in the background while I work. Then I listen to the rest after school.

Four Places I’ve Vacationed
1. Las Vegas
2. Washington D.C.
3. Munich
4. Seattle

Four of My Favorite Foods
1. A good steak
2. Chips and salsa
3. Angel Hair with almost any red sauce
4. New England Clam Chowder

Four Blogs I Visit Daily
1. Education Wonks
2. Right on the Left Coast
3. Polski
4. What Up, Mz. Smlph? (she will return!)

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now
1. Munich, Germany
2. Lake Tahoe
3. Seattle
4. Driving around Alaska

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A little Porto anyone?

Quickly, name two ways to inflame an entire nation.

Times up!

1) Draw a cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed.

2) Allow a company from the United Arab Emeriates to run cargo through U.S. ports.

I mean, Jesus Christ, you'd have thought that President Bush allowed Iran to build nuclear reactors in major East Coast cities the way that Congress and the media is reacting to the news of a Middle Eastern buyout of a British shipping company. For those of you out of the loop, Dubai (a beautiful city in the U.A.E.) Ports World has purchased a British company that has been managing a group of American ports that stretch from New York to New Orleans. In short, a Middle Eastern nation will be running the day to day operations at the port, meaning loading and unloading ships. Congress is flipping out, screaming that it is a massive security risk and an unnecessary step in favor of the terrorists to attack the United States. Never mind that the U.S. Government (under the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security) is the sole enforcer of security at the ports, and that the managing company has nothing to do with it.

Hey boys and girls, look at Congress following the ignorant little constituents that are running around saying, "The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!" This backlash from the Legislative Branch reeks of ignorance and outright racism. We should be promoting the incorporation of Arab companies into the U.S. economic fold, not screaming like a bunch of idiotic Oakies that "the damn A-rabs will prolly use this thing to hit us again! Pass me the spitter".

Uh, back to the moonshine and Bridges to Nowhere for our bill writers in Washington.

And while we are at it, you might want to do a better job securing the ports, not bitching about who is running them. 5-7% physical inspection rate? Ouch.

Carnival Time!

Go hit up Education Wonks and the Education Carnival!

The war over Algebra rages on. Should it be a required element of a high school diploma? Some of the Midway entries have to do with that very subject. I stand by my opinion that Algebra should not be required to graduate high school. I also continue to feel that people that put Algebra on the same level as reading or writing are not be honest with the priorities of society. You can't survive without the ability to read. Period.
And this argument that Algebra creates a logical method of problem solving is horribly bogus. Every teacher should be teaching a logical method of problem solving, and Algebra is not the end-all and be-all of methodical deduction. Is it a valuable component to certain learning modalities in problem solving? Absolutely! But shame on those teachers that don't teach critical thinking skills and expect the linear boredom of mathematics to be the benchmark for progressional analysis.

By the way, you would not believe how many Calculus and AP Physics students can't balance a checkbook. Talk about missing the priorities.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Darren has me riled up on his blog. Come along for the ride!

Darren's blog is OVER HERE!

Here's a copy of my response about federal funding to schools.

What's to pay for?

You could start by paying teachers a professional wage for a career that requires post-graduate work.

Then you pay for all the people you are going to need to hire to help pass English Language Learners, since NCLB makes very little distinction when calculating scores if the student has any comprehension in English, or not.

Then you can bring back all the Title One money you are about to cut from the budget. See, since the Federal government refuses to address the crisis of illegal immigrants in California (under federal jurisdiction), the State is under more pressure to, again, pass a standardized test that has no point except to satisfy some lame political agenda.

Then pay for the vocational projects that you continue to cut since you have your head up your ass about everyone needing to follow the college prep courseline. God forbid that a student can't do algebra, but can weld an aircraft carrier blindfolded. Makes perfect sense to cut the funding to essential programs. You know; electricians, plumbers, welders, auto techs, craftsmen.....those industries that don't involve an NCLB mandated test.

Then pay for the Special Education laws that President Ford signed us into in 1975, paving the way for schools to spend massive amounts of money meeting every single need of kids that are given an IEP. Then also pay for the hundreds of thousands that the district has to pay in court costs to try and fight unreasonable parents that constantly abuse the law.

Oh yea, speaking about the President's Special Education law (ie: unfunded mandate), he better be quick with the cash. Over the last 10 years, special education costs to the districts have risen over 200%.

Speaking of funding, lets not forget the wonderful categorical cash programs that schools are promised year after year, and then denied when it comes time to pay up. Digital High School, Safe and Drug Free Schools and Vocational Education. Like any other institution, schools budget for this funding, and depend on receiving it.

And as for the "opting out" clause of NCLB, we are either naive or lying now aren't we? You think that the Federal government would simply sit back and leave California alone, not executing some other withholding if they didn't go with the program (speed limit ring a bell?) Since we happen to be the largest contributor to the Federal tax base, I propose that California withhold that estimated percentage of Federal Education spending, and apply it directly to the schools! That way, we can actually pay for the social services (you know, busing, food, shelter, utilities, mandated textbooks, IEP modifications, assistants, police, books for libraries) for kids that are coming across the border under the nose of the federal government. Maybe then the government will consider funding the right programs, not some stupid ass "American Competitiveness Initiative", which is poli-speak for "I haven't a goddamn clue about what is really going on in the classroom, but this sounds really profound."

As a Republican, yes, a Republican, I'm all for eliminating total Federal interference in the Education system. Make the system state and local (eliminate the county level while we are at it) and create educational INSTITUTIONS. Eliminate the "Oakland" style of budgeting and demand accountability. Demand more from students, administrators and teachers, but fund what you mandate. I'm still waiting for the "fiscal responsibility" portion of my party. I'm not into drinking the Neo-con Koolaid that so many Republicans seem to be satisfied with. It isn't as black and white as you think.

And if you have to ask "What to pay for?" in this state, in this day and age, then you are obviously not a high school teacher.

Special Education = Free Lunch?

Let me preface my thoughts by first stating that their are plenty of students out there with special needs. Our society has done a nice job since the nightmare of the 1980's, where mental illness equated to life on the street. In our school, special education is a serious subject that is met with a tremendous amount of resources. Dedicated people take a lot of time, and serious emotional punishment, to see that these kids have a fair education.

Unfortunately, many parents take advantage of the current Special Education situation and use it as an excuse to take advantage of the school district. In yesterdays San Francisco Chronicle, an article detailed some of the more extreme methods that parents are taking to insure a child's right to an education. Some of those horseback riding, aquatic therapy, and cross-country boarding schools. It is a scary look at how your educational tax dollars are trying to be gouged by families manipulating the special education laws.

It all revolves around a little document called an Individualized Education Program, aka; an IEP. This document, once created by a group of teachers/administrators/parents/doctors, is binding law. If the modifications in the document are not adhered to, the school district can be forced to make appropriate accommodations, sometimes by the legal system. This is where the parents are siphoning money out of the districts. Instead of paying legal fees, some districts are paying for the accommodations, no matter how crazy, since it is still cheaper than fighting a court battle. The paperwork is so overwhelming, and the process is so time consuming, that any number of mistakes can cost the school district a court battle. Kind of makes the whole idea of Special Education a little more pragmatic.

My experience with IEP's has been one of trial and error, with little leeway in making a mistake. I had one class in college that discussed mainstreaming of students and the importance of IEP's, yet nothing prepares you for the battle that comes with a parent who wants a certain method to the IEP. As a first year teacher, I had an average student in my college prep class that acted as a normal kid would, C grade, talked quite a bit in class, etc. When the first report card came out, with the C grade, the student's parents flipped out and insisted that the reason the student didn't have an A was because I wasn't following the modifications. They wanted "Extra time for work" to mean days, instead of minutes. They insisted that the school put "no homework" as an IEP modification and became belligerent when the school rejected the idea. When it was put forth that the student might do better in a lower level class, the family balked at the idea and insisted that it was my fault for the entire situation. They threatened the school district and more specifically, my job. Interesting situation on the third month on the job, eh?

Since that confrontation, I have regarded IEPs as the "third rail" of education. The meetings for them often take place during classtime, so they can give no real input. The parents have absolute sway once the document is implemented, so teachers that have a gripe about unreasonable modifications are pretty powerless. I had a minor incident this year wear a parent thought that I wasn't going "all the way" with their child's modifications. I explained that a child in a college prep class should do more than fine with my implementation of the IEP. When they started to snarl, I backed off. It wasn't worth the potential distraction that it could create.

I know that I'm only in my fifth year of teaching, but here are some recommendations for dealing with IEPs.

-Don't argue with Case Carriers about IEPs. They have the fill the things out (which is a bitch), they have to make sure it is legal, and they are the go between with parents and yourself.

-If you have to attend a meeting, and you really are concerned about the effect on your class, then be prepared to sit in on the entire meeting. If it really matters that much, you can take the time.

-Stand up for your classroom while in the IEP (management style, class policy, etc), but never say "I will not do that". It alienates everyone in attendance.

-Try and get the modifications to be vague. That way, you can make modifications and justify them without much distraction in the classroom, or resistance from the parents. "Extra time on assignments", "Repeat instructions", "Seat near front of the classroom" are all very vague and workable. And, much easier to justify.

-Document everything.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Challenge Week

To say the least, this day was chalk full of distractions for my classes.

First of all, it was the week before vacation. At our school, we have a "ski week" in February, instead of all the three day weekends. This makes for some interesting behavior, much like the behavior on the week before Christmas Break. Many of the students were restless, and the many of my Intro students were really pushing the limits of the class rules, thinking they are adults ("I'm 18, I don't have to take this shit" kind of attitude), while acting like little children. I makes for interesting classroom management.

Then theirs Valentine's Day. Well, I swear that I didn't even think about the Day of Love when I scheduled a test for that very Tuesday. The students really didn't mind, they are used to being prepared for anything. It was the students that were dealing with the other crap that seemed to not understand the way I work. Some rude student came into our building during break and asked if, on Valentine's Day, they could deliver roses and sing for the student getting it. Knowing that a test was going to be on that day, I said "no". Apparently, the local Thespian Society on campus didn't understand my "no", and interrupted my test, much to my anger. Add on the fact that their was chocolate wrappers all over the place, and students carrying around a hundred dollars in roses (which made many other students feel totally out of place), and you have a day of total non-focus.

Then there's Challenge Day. I know that I'll be called totally politically incorrect about this, so if you are one of those people that think that school is for touchy feely kinds of things, you might as well stop reading. Challenge Day is a three day long bender regarding this mission:

Challenge Day provides youth and their communities with experiential workshops and programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.

For those three days, students do a lot of expression, a lot of laughs and tears, and very little of anything in the classroom. You see, Challenge Day just happens to occur during school on these three days that they attend. During these three days of self-expression, my Seniors, some of whom could be failing, attend this workshop and leave the academic world behind. Just simply another damn distraction, and another thing I will have to explain to parents when they want to know why their kid is not making it. I understand the need for some social therapy for students, but how about after school? Maybe on the weekends? When I brought this up with one of the people running the gig, they told me "Well nobody would show up." Really? You don't say. That should be a sign then, if nobody shows up unless you bait them by saying, "Hey look, get out of your classes for three days!". On top of that, this year they decided to have it on campus at our school. Guess where on campus. That's right! MY GYM! The little concrete gym that the freshmen have to practice in! I called the coordinator and reminded her (I wasn't told by them, a P.E. teacher told me they were using it) that I had basketball practice at 4 p.m. Sure enough, at 3:45 on practice day, I come in to find the gym to be a total disaster. Tables and chairs are everywhere. Challenge Day folks are standing around acting as if nothing needs to be done. And finally the gym floor. If you took a cube of Pepsi, and opened them up one-by-one, and then dumped them all over the gym floor, then you would have an idea when my floor looked like. Thankful, the gym custodian was nice enough to stop is normal routine and use the machine to wash and scrub the floor. We were 15-20 minutes late getting in, but at least we got in. If you have a great custodian, be thankful. I know I am.

So hopefully the teaching aspect of school can resume on the Monday we return. This other stuff is nothing be distracting.


Basketball season is done.

If you look at the scoreboard (7-12, 4-10 in league) then you probably consider it a rough season. In terms of wins and losses it was, but in terms of the team I had, I wouldn't have minded coaching another 10 games, simply because a couple of members of the team were finally understanding what was necessary to become a good ballplayer. So the season is over for me. The varsity won two huge games and looked excellent in stretches last night. That means that they should be playoff bound, which will extend my job as an assistant to varsity for another two weeks.

On a more interesting note, I saw the best high school halftime event ever last night. Elsie Allen High School had some sort of drum ensemble that played excellent. It was a great diversion from the usual cheerleading number.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Education Carnival time

Better late than never.

All my school-wide craziness didn't allow me to catch up on my blog reading until today. Number One on the list is always the Education Carnival over at Education Wonks. This should be required reading for all teachers, especially new ones. In fact, dump that idiotic thing called BITSA, and throw in the Education Carnival instead.

Of particular interest to me at the Carnival:
-Check out Eduwonk's take on President Bush's new budget proposal.
-Going to the Mat looks at the state of teaching as a profession.

What a disaster

No, not my recent week at school. That week went fairly well, and with the exception of one period, I would consider it a very good week. The kids are totally into the The Stock Market Game, and even though I'm currently grading some substandard essay tests (not one has a conclusion so far), the kids seem to have a pretty good hold on investing.

No, it's not my basketball team either. Yes, this season is going to end up being my worst record ever as a coach, but it is by far not my worst season. This week we went 0-2 against teams that were simply better than us. However, we played one of the better halves of the year, hanging with the top team in the league until their 6'3" center just killed us underneath. Still, I coach a good group of kids, and it isn't easy to depend on others for years, and now have to learn to become "the man".

It's the county! Yes, Mendocino County is now considered a Federal Disaster Area, which means we are eligible for federal aid (which we aren't going to really pursue) and tax breaks (which we really are going to pursue). The declaration happened on Feb. 3, and just yesterday we had our first contact by a gentleman from FEMA. He gave us a phone number to call, which we did and promptly became part of the federal disaster system. Believe it or not, the inspection wait for us was only 24 hours. That's right! Called on Saturday afternoon, and around 6 p.m. the inspector from FEMA called and said that he would be here at about Noon on Sunday. Sure enough, our FEMA assessment is completed and we start dealing in money matters in about 10 days. Hmmmmmm, I wonder if the same process is going as fast in New Orleans? Of course, the damage is much more severe, but the services being provided at the same level?

By the way, the damage assessment was contracted out to a company called Alltech, which is based out of Virginia. Consumer Rights groups like to brag about the fact that FEMA throws out money to companies with little or no regard. However, besides the President's useless delay (he was waiting for what?), Alltech has been great. But, I did a little snooping around the issue of Alltech and I found that Alltech actually has a parent company called Parsons Brinckerhoff. If you want to see some impressive projects, check out Parson's Annual Report, a fascinating look at where global engineering is taking us.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Props to one of my classes

Sitting in Economics for two hours is not fun. Trust me, I sat in Economics classes that ran two hours during college, and they flat out suck.

However, one of my classes not only sat in my class for two hours, but went through almost 90 minutes of straight lecture/discussion with note taking, and hardly a negative peep from the whole class (yes, I made sure they were awake). Since we were a day behind from college FAFSA presentations, I had to cram in some serious investing notes. Currently, I'm working on transferring all my notes onto Power Point presentations, something that is a little more interesting for the kids. The kids asked great questions, seemed very involved in the lecture, and were excellent for the period. I was thrilled to end the day with this class!

For some reason, this class has "worked", if you get my drift. First of all, about a quarter of the students had my in World History as a freshman, and already know my story. Others are as brash and bold as I am with sarcasm and humor, therefore making the class very interesting. They do an excellent job being able to jab some fun with crossing the line (which will be much more difficult later in the year) or without staying off topic for long. For instance, here is sample of topics we covered in the 90 minutes, in some semblance of order:
-Reasons to Invest
-Issues with College Investing
-The Rule of 72
-Was the picture of Einstein sticking his tongue out a fake?
-Best method to rob banks
-Savings accounts
-Why a male student wants to open a woman's underwear store
-Government bonds
-Nuclear holocaust
-Real Estate
-The high cost of home maintance
-Why one of the students should be in a Grease movie
-Comic books and baseball cards
-Inflation pressure on investments

You get the point. Now, it might seem like we get off topic and that it ruins the flow, but the students will kindly let you know when it is time to run with it. That, and you will develop the ability to find a happy medium. The banter really does keep them sharp, at least in this class. It also does well in two other classes, were students enjoy being in the class. Two classes don't do as well. One class is sensitive to sarcasm, with some students being a little too tender, and other becoming too offended. The other class just hates being at school period, and spends every waking moment letting you know about it. Sarcasm won't work with this class because they are simply looking for distractions and a reason to get nasty. Let me clarify that. There are 3-5 students in there that feel like that. My patience is wearing on this class, and I'm about ready to weed out the bad element. Today a new student in the class was text messaging during Silent Reading. He was new as in he just entered the class last week. He's not THAT new because he had me as teacher and TA two years ago. Right now, I'm just mentally preparing myself for the parental onslaught that is coming when I toss 5 kids out at once and drop their grades. But hey, I teach those that want to learn, not those that want to prevent others from learning.

Yoshi's and the McCoy Tyner Quintet

Sorry for the late posting, but my wife's birthday was this weekend and I was gone. That and my cold was hanging on until late yesterday.

My wife and I had talked about going to Yoshi's in Jack London Square in Oakland for years. I decided that along with a little shopping spree, I would treat my wife to sushi and jazz at the world famous club. What's interesting about Yoshi's is that it is so Japanese on the restaurant end, and very jazz on the club end of the spectrum. For example, dinner was some of the better Japanese food that I've had (Ocotime in Ukiah is still better), although the portions were a little small. The miso soup was excellent, the sushi was fresh, and the teriyaki chicken was flavorful. With a little wine and coffee, the price was still fairly reasonable.

I had chosen this particular night because of the McCoy Tyner Quintet, the group that was playing for a two week stint at Yoshi's. I chose that group because my wife and I were only just appreciating jazz, and the name I recognized on the list in the quintet was Ravi Coltrane, son of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. I was in for an pleasant surprise. First of all, my wife didn't really enjoy the show. It seemed like she expected a much more structured "concert" style performance, while I was hoping that a more "jam session" method prevailed. The latter was the case, much to my wife's disappointment. However, I enjoyed the Quintet immensely.
First off, McCoy Tyner is apparently a legendary jazz pianist who used to perform with John Coltrane. His work on Saturday night was very good, although he seemed to fade into the background for some of the younger talent on occasion.
Ravi Coltrane played the saxophone, and played it very well. His notes started off smooth and mellow, and then he seemed to feel a grove much more as the night went on.
I had no clue who Bobby Hutcherson was, even though most people around me were very excited to see him play. Apparently, Hutcherson is the single greatest vibraphonist ever to play. What's a vibraphone? Simply a xylophone with metal rods instead of wooden ones. Holy God could this man play.
Eric Harland and Charnett Moffett rounded out as drummer and bassist respectfully. Both were entranced with the music and the solos were incredible, with motion and sound that I never though possible using instruments.

All in all, an excellent jazz experience. It made you do much more than listen, it made you feel.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I finally got it.

Three days ago, it was a scratchy throat.
Two days ago, my throat was sore and my energy level went into the celler.
Yesterday I was so intense in the game that I hardly had the energy to talk for the rest of the night, and I actually slept on the hour bus ride home.
Today, it was official. I'm sick.

I really hate being sick. Today I felk ok during zero period, and the rest of the day I felt like a walking zombie. My energy is toasted, my voice is hoarse, and the kids have that look knowing that class won't be as good today because I'm not all over the place. I had to cancel practice too. Tomorrow is Winterfest, which means lots of entertainment and lots of good coaching.


Carnival Time!

Check out the new Education Carnival over at Diane Weir's place.