Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guess that kills my MP3 player

Thank the Washington Post for this one.

Looks like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the organization that regularly sues over 'illegal downloading' of music over file sharing networks, has decided that your computer is not appropriate storage for music.

In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

Come on now. I'm all for nailing people that download thousands of songs and illegally distribute music at now charge. I'll be the first to say that musicians should get what they deserve when they create music that people love. At the same time, how exactly does a person go about transferring music from a cd to an MP3 player without putting it on a computer? If the answer is an iTunes style system then what's the difference between spending $15 on a cd to upload to your computer, and spending $10 to download the exact same music onto your computer?

The RIAA can kiss the entire area of my behind on this one, as I have nearly every album uploaded on my computer so I can transfer music to my MP3 player, create playlists, and save space. My wife and I are looking to acquire a sound system that will simply need wireless to use the computer as storage to play music. I don't see copyright infringement anywhere in my home, and the RIAA better look out because the backlash will just make people more digital.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ask the people if you want the answers to public education

Everyone else seems to be on the Jay Mathews article bandwagon so I might as well chime in.

If you don't know, Jay Mathews is the Education Columnist from the Washington Post. His posts are focused on making high schools better, but not necessarily using current methods (he pretty much thinks Advanced Placement is a joke). Mathews also recognized this blog as one of his Top 10 favorites.

In dealing with a local high school, Mathews decided to ask his readers how to fix the problems of public education. This article from the Washington Post is the response he got summarized into 7 bullets. Before I address them let's understand that this article is like asking the public to solve the national budget or create an outline for Middle East peace. The answers are simple and fairly uninformed.

1. Train teachers better: training must be "intense, disciplined, research-based, and result-directed. Require it, and a lot of it".
-You can only learn so much in a college program, and I consider the one I did at Chico State to be quite rigorous and worthwhile. However, nothing beats classroom experience. So, how do we accomplish this? I don't have the answer because I don't see classroom teachers wanting to take on the task of teaching other teachers without reasonable compensation. First, teaching teachers takes time, paperwork, and energy on top of the fact that they still need to teach classes. Take me. If I was asked to teach teachers, I would ask for the following: that the student-teacher be required to teach at least two classes all year, that the student-teacher spend the entire school day with the instructor, that the college work directly with the instructor, and that the instructor get paid at least a $10,000 stipend for the extra work. Want good teachers? Better pay people to do it. As for professional development, yeah, better get rid of the fad crap and actually train teachers as professionals. I've been to terrible workshops (put on by Sonoma County Office of Ed) and excellent workshops (Bellevue AP Workshop) and the simple difference is one treated people like professionals while the other was thousands of dollars on trendy crap presented by rookies.

2. Let principals hire and fire staff: "Principals need the ability to clean house and hire teachers that will continually strive for progress and not give up hope on our children."
-You make an interesting assumption that the leadership of our schools is consistently good. I've been through both good and not so good leadership, and it makes a huge difference. However, let's remember that principals are hired not by invested shareholders, but by politically elected school boards that that often know nothing about schools and simply like to hold power over something. And principals, like teachers, and hell......Supers.....are underpaid for their job. Our Super oversees thousands of employees in an immensely important job and is paid nothing like a CEO of a company. Therefore, you ask for cheap and often you get cheap. This can have a major impact on the ability to hire and fire good employees. Saying this, I also agree that the teacher's union often protects bad employees, and in some cases, I mean really bad.

3. Remove disruptive students: "Get them into more extracurricular activities, upgrade cafeteria food and require school uniforms......if troubled students interfere with the learning of conscientious kids, they had to be put somewhere else."
-Wow, why didn't I think of that? This is my seventh year teaching at my school and the first year that I didn't teach at least two classes of the 'disruptive students'. This is obviously a wonderful idea, except that you have this little issue of disruptive students being much more difficult to teach. We are talking about students with very challenging behaviors, IEP's that must be followed (and increased legal risk to the teacher), often much more challenging parents, and an environment that can often be demoralizing to young teachers. Saying all that, teaching these kids can be very, very rewarding. It does take a different method, but with the right tools and support, a teacher can get a whole lot accomplished with these kids. I took a group of them to the FED in San Francisco a few years back. Best field trip ever. But what we are talking about regarding separation will take a lot of money and even more administrative support. Are you willing to fork over more tax dollars for 'disruptive students'?

4. Make high schools smaller: "Only when students are attended to in ways similar to independent schools will the necessary positive relationships between students and teachers be established".
-I am all for smaller schools. In fact, I'm all for smaller schools that direct kids into a field of interests (magnet schools). Seriously, I don't need Pre-Calc if I'm going into the field of teaching Government (sorry Darren from Right on Left), so put me in a magnet school for Liberal Arts or Social Studies. Of course, this creates a couple of interesting problems. First, and once again, are you the Taxpayer willing to put out the extra to create new schools and hire more teachers? Right now many of the existing schools are not up to standard, yet you ask for smaller ones? And California reduced class sizes years ago only to realize that they had to hire a ton of emergency credential teachers (mostly in troubled districts) to fill the need for employees. Once again, the American Taxpayer will have to make a choice.

5. Get parents more involved: "More communication is essential, which is one more reason why many educators prefer smaller schools, where principal, teachers, students and parents find it easier to get to know each other."
-Two things. First, parents need to do more parenting at home and stop looking to the schools to do it for them. This means that parents need to do a much better job teaching kids about what successful priorities are. Going on a cruise during Finals Week is not a priority. Neither is going skiing every other Friday all winter. Nor a starting spot on the basketball team or being a head cheerleader. Second, schools need the authority to tell parents to go jump in the lake without having to worry about political repercussions. Positive parental contributions to a school can make education a spectacular experience. Negative parental contributions make academics a nightmare. I was once told by a credential professor that parents will lie and cheat for their children, and in our profession, the teachers get to deal with it. It should not be that way. There are parents that simply need to be told off. "Your habitually tardy daughter was 20 minutes late for the Final. The teacher would not let her take it. We support that. Get out."

6. Make buildings look nice: "Schools which are kept neat and clean and painted, with the bathrooms in good shape, send a message. The student is valued and education is valued."
-This fundamentally correct and true. However, once again, are taxpayers willing to fork out the cash to hire more custodial staff? And remember that kids are often the culprits of trashing a campus. Are parents going to stand by while Johnny is suspended for constantly littering on campus? Parents like to blame the school when gum is everywhere. They might want to look at their kids.

7. Involve the community: "Only the best-organized schools seem to have good access to community resources."
-This is a two way street. Why assume that it is school organization that impacts community involvement? In a town like Ukiah, the school is trying the beat back a horrid drug culture that much of the community actually promotes. Many schools don't have access to the money that somewhere like Interlake in Bellevue, Washington has. You have Microsoft and Nintendo down the road and all the equipment is top-of-the-line, plus the community actively promotes learning. Many schools are islands that promote learning in a sea of a chaotic community.

Well, this complicates things

Benazir Bhutto, the first prime minister of an Islamic state, was assassinated this morning.

My wife shouted this announcement to me at around 6:30 this morning when we first woke up. I'm genuinely sad about this, maybe because we have been really following the progress of Pakistan and the issues around Bhutto in my International Studies class. You got the feeling that she was going the right direction in terms of creating a moderating influence in a country that is remarkably unstable. One could hope that she would, at the very least, bring the people together to fight extremism. However in the end, that extremism is what killed her.

From a more pragmatic point of view this is hardly a surprise. Pakistan is horribly dangerous, and the Islamic fundamentalist element made no secret their plans to kill Benazir Bhutto. Now the question becomes, "What next?" Right now the riots around the country are not only anger at Bhutto's death, but also anger against President Pervez Musharraf's corrupt government and his inability to bring down an entire region that is slowly eating away at the Muslim world. Now the time has come for Musharraf to make a choice, because he is not going to last much longer sitting on the fence of allowing the tribal extremists to run wild while still holding political power. While Musharraf probably didn't have anything to do with Bhutto's assassination, his Intelligence Unit, which may be the most corrupt organization on the planet, probably allowed the extremists access to her security.

All in all, the situation is now more grim in Pakistan. Keep an eye on the country, it could be very interesting.

Back from the holiday trip

Christmas has come and gone.

Now is the time that my official vacation begins, except for the grading and basketball practices. Stock projects and globalization essays must be graded, hopefully by the end of the weekend. Otherwise, I would love to settle down with a few good books and relax/read. Family members supplied me with a variety of Borders and Barnes & Noble gift cards that were promptly used at sales yesterday.

Speaking of Barnes & Noble, I had a minor Bay Area celebrity sighting at the Santa Rosa branch of the bookstore. Gary Radnich, sports guy at KRON and radio guru at KNBR was hanging with his family near the registers, looking through something or other with his wife. I'm not into stalking entertainers, so I didn't bother walking the 15 feet to say that I appreciated his radio show or that I grew up listening to his KRON sports reports. It's one thing if the celeb is at an event to promote his show, but leave a guy alone if he's with his family.

Ok, I'm going back to my new copy of Guitar Hero, which my wife bought me in some attempt to keep me busy while she buys stuff on Zappos.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A few really good Christmas movies.

In no particular order:

The Ref
The is a nice, warm type of movie that will warm the cockles of your heart. Nothing better than a realistic portrayal of a family Christmas, and what you really want to do to them.

Christmas Vacation
Come on, you know that you laughed out loud at this classic family tale. Clark Griswold at his finest as the family comes for the holidays.

A Christmas Story
Yes, "you'll shoot your eye out". I had to say it once. I remember the first time I say this movie, and I thought it was a classic then. Now, it is one of the greatest ever made. Just ask TNT.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
My wife and I make it a point every year to watch this movie. It is a great, and realistic, message about the consumerism that is rampant at this time of year. Besides that, Snoopy rules!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Not that crappy, Jim Carrey version, but the old school cartoon is an excellent holiday classic that makes even the grumpiest grinch smile.

It's a Wonderful Life
Can you believe that this was the first year that I saw this film? Not only is it a great Christmas film, it is simply a great film. Instant must see by Frank Capra for the entire family.

Based on "A Christmas Carol", only a whole lot funnier. Bill Murray plays Scrooge to a "T" as a modern day corporate jerk. The ghosts are enjoyable, but it is the ending that will grab you.

Die Hard
"But it's not Christmas!!!!" Ahhh, wrong, check out the entire environment and you will see that the movie has a massive Christmas theme. Check out the soundtrack! Add in the fact that this movie is on of the greatest action movies of all time, and has one of the great villains of all time (pictured: Alan Rickman), and you have a Christmas masterpiece. For the guys at least.

Love Actually
Eight different couples get into romantic and relationship entanglements during the holidays. Masterfully written and acted, but some of the storylines are a little sad. Still, it is a very good overview of love.

Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer
The original claymation style movie still fills kids with wonder as the little "reindeer that could" becomes Santa's hero.

Rent them and feel the warmth of the holidays!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holidays at last

Well, school's out and the holiday season is upon us.

I'm going to be doing a shit load of grading this semester, the one that ended last Friday and now requires the grade reports sort of upon return. Worse, kids are leaving having no idea what their grades in Government are. Ok, not really 'no idea'. They are only sweating if they were borderline, in which case I can't help them for another few days because I'm not picking up an assignment until at least Thursday.

Basketball is going very well. The JV Wildcats are now 11-2, with a one point comeback win against Montgomery. It was a very exciting game, although being down 10 in the fourth quarter has a way at making young coaches age quickly. I also saw an old reflection of who I used to be on the opposing sideline. I've calmed down quite a bit and sometimes it is flat out embarrassing to see how I used to act.

I'm on the final leg of the annual holiday road trip that started in Ukiah, stopped in Burney, stopped in Forest Ranch, and is now in Discovery Bay. Tomorrow I'll be home with the wife to open the presents that Santa left for us under our Charlie Brown style tree.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why so serious?

At first, I didn't think that they could top Batman. Then came Batman Begins.

Then I didn't think they could top Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

Looks like I was wrong again.

Check out the trailer and look forward to summer.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Toni Kay Scott learns a valuable lesson

Here is the situation.

Here is the result.

And here is the my little letter to the mother of Toni Kay Scott, Donnell Scott.

Dear Ms. Scott,

First of all, congratulations on your First Amendment victory against the Napa Valley School District. It takes an amazing amount of courage to take on a cash strapped institution that settled for the $95,000 so it didn't have to answer to patriots like you questioning the moral outrage that can now be called "The Tigger Incident". Thanks to you, other incrediably spoiled children can now walk the halls of Redwood Middle School safe in knowing that they are totally free to dress in whatever manner mommy and daddy see fit, regardless of the rules. Thank God that you had the wherewithall to take on the noblest of causes (Sock Image Protection) in the face of the mounting adversity of academic progress. You didn't budge when the district had to deal with ever increasing budget pressures or the demands of possible Program Improvement..........HELL NO! You kept your eye on the ball and focused on the real problem with public education, the rules. You'll be damned if your daughter has to follow the rules. Seriously, why go to school to focus on reading, math, science,'s all simply a distraction from the real reason that students go to school. To learn how to fight the power, baby! That's right! What the hell good is education if you can't find a just cause that is worth believing in! Why demand a high standard in education when you can fight the fights that need fighting! Thanks to your excellent example of successful role modeling, I've decided to go against the establishment for the following transgressions:

-I'm going to sue the Ukiah Unified School District for not allowing marijuana to be smoked on campus. The current state law allows medical marijuana to be sold in the state and the rules of the school are infringing on my right to lite.
-I'm then going to file a law suit against the school district for not allowing me to wear my t-shirt to work that says, "Shut Up! I make the f@*king History!". As the ACLU says, "It's really about freedom of expression and tolerating individuality, which are core values of our society." Forget all about the rules, high standards, and such.
-Finally, I'm going to sue the Napa Valley School District for not meeting the variety of State and Federal mandates because they just laid off two teachers and cut programs to pay off the lawyers from this suit. Can't these districts manage their money better? If it isn't one thing, it's Tigger socks.

Once again, thank you for taking the moral high ground in respects to your daughter. You have shown her that no real authority exists in the world, only that which can be overruled by a mommy with a just cause. Fight the Power!

People like this that sue school districts are dispicable, selfish bastards that should be thrown in jail. Your lawsuit is going to impact thousands of kids and make the system worse for wear.

Way to go.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Student Found!

One of our dedicated volunteer groups just reunited the student with his family. He was cold and hungry, but otherwise unhurt. Watch for a press release on the names of the volunteers that found him. He was walking down Low Gap Road a little more than a mile west of the high school around midnight.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Rehashing again, because it continues to come up. But updated this time.

This is a post I did regarding John Stossel's Stupid in America about two years ago. Here it is again, with updates. Chime in if you like.

There are some serious problems with education in America.

I'll say, and they encompass a huge spectrum of people that refuse to take responsibility for the problems. But when it comes down to it, the main problem is that the United States does not put a premium value on education. No, I don't mean that funding equals value, I mean that society as a whole refuses to take an active part in education, simply leaving the task to the government to take care of. Think it isn't true? Who do you like makes the rules that teachers are required to follow? It isn't the principal. It isn't the school board. It's the political establishment that is voted in by the constituents. In the end, many of things we can and can't do is based around Ed Code, something made by state and federal governments, which are ran by people that know little about education.
This is not to say that teachers, unions, schools, and parents aren't part of the problem. However, the country needs to stop talking about caring for education, and actually take part in a new educational process.
-I'm going to also throw in that the hypocrisies of parents not being held accountable for the education of children continues to disgust me. While I'm supposed to be the one that makes sure that kids understand the curriculum, I'm the one that ends up being bitched at by parents that think that cruises and trips to Mexico are more important than graduation, and then I'm bitched at by a government that totally ignores the parental portion of the problem.

Test scores show that kids are failing in public schools.

I respect the idea behind No Child Left Behind; more accountability and a larger push towards real achievement in academics. But if you think that test scores are a true measurement in how kids are succeeding in public schools, you are very mistaken. The test are joke. Who says so? Why, you do. You blindly follow the government mandated tests thinking that they fairly measure the scholastic aptitude of students, while not taking any other variables into consideration when listening to the test scores being read off. For instance, parents can sign their kids off on taking tests. This means that parents alone can make a school miss their requirements. I've had plenty of students that will be going to major universities, Advanced Placement students, refuse to take the test because they felt it was redundant after the AP test. Students also refuse to take the test seriously, as many take out their displeasure on the answer form of the state tests. Schools have gone to insane lengths to get students to take tests; from ice cream sundaes to giving away I-PODS. If parents and students don't take it seriously, how are we supposed to influence test scores?

There isn't a link between money and student achievement

Yes and no. Yes, the amount of money spent at a school has little impact in student achievement. You can buy all the laptops in the world for kids, but it amounts to nothing if the kids don't learn. At the same time, plenty of statistics show that schools that are poverty stricken areas are less likely to have good student achievement. Therefore, every school should look and feel, and act, like a major academic institution. The problem is that the system is losing money somewhere in the chain from the Governor to the classroom. Fifty billion for the state of California should be enough. So where does it go? I'm not sure, except to say that I don't receive a major chunk of money to spend on my students, AND my district is constantly short on money at the end of the year. Is it the districts fault? Well, we have some of the lowest paid teachers, custodians, district administrators, and staff in the area. We are down custodians, barely have money for art and music, and have to constantly pay for health fees. Sorry, I don't buy the argument that the district wastes money intentionally. One way or another, it is still not reaching the school.

-I have a computer that breaks down constantly and software that is 8 years old. Students have to spend 10 minutes waiting for ancient computers to start up in the lab. We are still down custodians, we have less teachers, and the budget is worse off than ever. Explain to me again where the massive amounts of money are going and then fix it. Otherwise, shut up and accept that you don't really prioritize education.

The schools should use the Jack Welch method and fire the bottom 10% of the teachers.

I absolutely agree. In the six years that I have worked as a teacher I have witnessed people that should not be in this profession. This job is too important to have incompetent fools teaching our kids.
But I have one question, who decides what makes a bad teacher?
Do you fire a special education teacher because she doesn't get her test scores up? Do you fire an AP teacher because more kids didn't pass the AP tests this year as compared to last year? What about the PE teacher who has more kids getting obese? Should they get canned?
And the worst would be the new teachers. Are you going to fire a new teacher who makes mistakes? You learn teaching by doing and making mistakes, but in our profession that can make parents and students angry. How are you going to protect the new teacher who is just getting their feet wet? It took me four years to find my grove, and I'm just starting to get really confident this year. Was four years too long?
Now, obviously the scum of the profession (sexual harassment, violence, etc) should be let go immediately, but if you run a school like General Electric, and fire teachers based on immediate results, you will be hard pressed to find people that will grow into great teachers.

-I've come around to the fact that good administrators will be able to identify good teachers, just like good management is supposed to. I've also come around to the idea that merit pay of some kind is not only a legitimate idea, but one that every good teacher should be thrilled about. Right now the only reason I've heard against merit pay is that it will "pit teacher against teacher". Funny, but if the whole History department is strong, where does this pit me against my colleagues? Doesn't just mean that everyone is going to benefit?

Competition will improve education.

Actually, it will only hide the problem of not valuing education in society. We shouldn't need private schools or charter schools, and the idea of letting parents choose where students go to school will only allow kids with involved parents get the "better" education. Let's be honest, not every parent can afford to send their kid to a private school, and charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools. This will great the school for kids whose parents are not involved, and schools for parents that have a lot at stake in their child's education. But it doesn't solve the problem of actually getting society to value education. Instead, it leaves a population excluded because they are in poverty, or are Second Language Learners, or are disabled, or are simply unlucky (as in the lottery on the show).
If we truly want competition, then lets make the playing field level. Charter schools are to follow the same rules, have the same funding, and must admit all students without prejudice. Let the competition happen naturally, don't push the funding and political agenda to the side of the charter schools.

-Our local charter school was recently given the designation of "dropout factory". While people constantly came on this blog and bitched me out for saying that students were doing so fabulously, the stats came out that a vast majority of freshmen that start at local charters end up leaving them. And of course, the money doesn't follow.

Does anyone else you know work only 6 1/2 hours a day?

I found it amusing that Stossel accused teachers of not working as much as the general public, and then shot to a group of KIPP teachers going home with cell phones answering calls from their kids "at all hours of the night".
Here is another example of society not appreciating education in that society doesn't want to pay educators. We are college graduate professionals that are often not paid a wage that allows use to buy a home or exists in many parts of the country. We often work many more hours than the average worker (lest you forget that many grade papers and lesson plan at home, and coach or have duty at school), and are held responsible by an enormous amount of people; the kids, the parents, the administration, the Board, the state, the federal government, and society in general. Would that make you want to start at $30K a year?
By the way, I give my e-mail to my students and I'm often answering their questions at all hours of the night.

-I would still daring any of you cowards that say that we are overpaid and under worked to take a full teaching job. Talk is cheap.

The union is a monopoly that hinders education.

I was fortunate to have a principal that was an excellent mentor, and department that was supportive, critical, and motivating. Not all teachers are so lucky, and the union is often necessary to make sure that teachers are not trounced on my an inept administrator or held out to dry by an apathetic department. I've also been fortunate enough to have seen both sides of the union, and I'm as pretty middle of the road as it can get. I owe a lot to my local union for negotiating a strong contract, for supporting me during a natural disaster, and for being their regarding issues with parents. They are an organization that genuinely supports good teaching and helping kids. Are there union wackos that insist that the district is the devil? Yes, but they are a minority.
The CTA and NEA are another matter. I've had a rise in my dues almost every year since I was hired and have seen a negative return in terms my involvement in the process. My dues go to causes I disagree with, agendas I despise, and politicians who are less concerned about education and more concerned about votes. In my direct dealings with the CTA, I've sent in state legislation for legal advice regarding adherence by my district, only to be totally ignored on a variety of occasions.
I have no love for the state and federal unions, but without protection, we would be at the mercy of often irrational people. They are necessary.

-God. I'm so sick of the union that I'm to the point of asking that the high school break away from the local because obviously elementary and high school teachers have different needs. Of course, members wouldn't vote for it because they either don't care or just want to be petulant.

What do we do about the problem of education in this country?

You want my 12 Step Program for Education Success? Here it is:

1. Conduct an independent audit of the entire Education program in California. The politicians, the parents, the districts, and teachers want to know where the money is going. The only way to accurately do that is to find the waste and begin to eliminate it, starting with the County level of education.

-This needs to be done yesterday. And include the schools themselves in the audit. See where independent departments are using too much paper, leaving lights on, fixing leaky faucets. Seriously, where the hell is the money going?

2. Build all schools up to the same standard, from building codes to athletic facilities, from classrooms to technology centers. No student should ever want to leave a school because it is run down. Every school should have the same academic, environmental standard.

-I've been watching the modernization of the high school and the fact that so many things are going so wrong, and being done so late is a joke. Someone should get fired for putting in wrong equipment, or putting in equipment the wrong way, or not following the damn plans, or being months behind schedule. On top of that, I would like a computer that doesn't crash every time I use on FLV file. Oh yeah, and since you are making up roam using a cart for the remainder of the year, I would like a laptop that has more than 256 mb RAM. That way, I can show the video clips without the constant update interruption. Oh yeah, prioritize education.

3. Schools that receive private funding should get an equal reduction in government funding. Demanding achievement from all schools starts with not allowing one school to become elite, but all schools. You might call it socialist and un-American, but I would point out this quote from Stossel, "Money does not equal student achievement". If that's true, private funding is not necessary.

-Still agree. All you are doing to creating a wider gap between the rich and the poor.

4. California immediately requires standards for administrators and conducts a thorough review off all administrators in state. Those that do not meet the standard are relieved of duty. If we are going to get serious about schools, then the schools need good leadership. I'm fortunate to work in a school with excellent leadership. Many of my colleagues that I went to school with are not so lucky. Administrators are responsible for the school, and should be held to the responsibility.

-This will fix a whole lot of problems, and get a lot more teachers into merit pay.

5. Fire the "bad" 10% of teachers immediately. I have no problem with the Jack Welch approach with a competent administration. I have total confidence that a professional administrator knows the difference between a struggling teacher is (new, tough population, rough parents), and a bad teacher. This will only work if #4 is implemented and working successfully.

-Immediately means now. And don't give me this crap about "how do you know a bad teacher"? Good management knows. Hell, students and teachers know.

6. Eliminate the CTA and NEA as unions, and keep the locals strong and organized. The state and national unions are simply political action committees that give little or no say to local teachers. It does no good for teachers to be forced into giving dues to an organization that is not for the best interests of teachers. If teachers want to give to their PAC, make it voluntary. I'll gladly pay mandatory local dues for all the hard work they do.

-And sue both the state and national organizations for fraud while your at it.

7. Penalize the parents for attendance issues, and go after public officials that refuse to properly address attendance problems in the community. The school can only do so much in making students show up to school. If the government is serious about education, fine parents for habitually tardy kids or enact community service or jail time. Too harsh? Not if we are serious about education. If district attorneys refuse to prosecute (like here in Mendocino County), they should be considered in violation of state law and removed from office, or thrown in jail.

-This is supposed to begin here in Mendocino County. Still, we have so many options for students to not show up (directed study, home health, independent study), that it makes attendance simply not mandatory. Then you have the harassment from parents that don't see the harm of students missing a day a week. I don't know about you, but if I miss a day a week, I get fired.

8. Make all state and federal testing together, and make it mandatory for graduation. It makes little sense to have an Exit Exam and STAR testing separate, and on top of that make only one really count. Want to improve test scores, keep the Exit Exam a graduation requirement, and incorporate the STAR test with it. It can be done, and it would be more financially sound.

9. Eliminate funding by ADA, and only increase funding for schools with large amounts of Second Language Learners and Special Education. First, ADA is a massively flawed method of funding that hurts every school with declining enrollment. As for the argument that this goes against #2, the funding should come from the Federal Government, who is constitutionally obligated to deal with the problem of immigration. If they insist on allowing illegal immigrants into the country, they should pay for massive immersion programs (much like business travelers have in other countries) and Spanish-English staff. Special Education needs more funding than General Education. The law simply requires it.

10. Give local school the power to expel students that have no business being at the school. California Ed Code makes the process of expulsion a very long, expensive, and often fruitless task. However, if society is really serious about making school a priority, then they need to ignore rants of parents looking for babysitters, and allow schools to remove obstacles to learning.
11. Publicly make education a priority. All the talk in the world is not going to do anything for education unless parents and children see the government actively working towards positive change. This means that education should be encouraged by the government in greater volumes and with incentives for businesses to become involved in student's lives. Tax credits should be offered to corporations that are active in schools and the government should form a committee of corporate CEO's whose task it is constantly advice the government on what is needed from the next generation of students. After all, it is business that will be one of the main beneficiaries of a well educated population.

12. Treat all students like scholars and demand excellence. Not all students are going to go to college, and not all students are going to succeed, but that doesn't mean we don't give them the best atmosphere possible for academic success. Kids will achieve that what we expect of them. Right now, we don't expect enough.

-Keep the damn standards high, and when people want to drag them down, tell them "no".

The problem with tournaments

We won the Willits JV Tournament in overtime on Saturday night, finishing at around 9:30 at night. I'm dead tired and I have to teach tomorrow.

One of the problems with coaching during the tournament season is the fact that you up working far above and beyond the usual hours. Willits is also two games on Saturday, which leaves Sunday for a day of relaxation. Usually, Sunday is my day to grade and update the website, however this weekend is going to be an exception. I'm doing exactly nothing on Sunday, doing the serious planning tomorrow.

Will my teaching suffer? Actually no. I'm a day behind anyway, which means that I'll be doing most of Friday's lessons on Monday. Paperwork is ready, its the energy that needs the prep.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Not much has changed. Dick Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan and I'm back on the radio!"

Thank God Imus is back. I guess the time off couldn't have hurt his image that much. Check out the guest list:

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sen. John McCain, Tom Friedman, Sen. Chris Dodd, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson

""We signed for five years because that's how long it's going to take to get even with everybody."

Thank God! The mornings are funny again!

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I just got back from the Fortuna Junior Varsity Basketball Tournament.

I make it a point to go to one basketball tournament every year that requires us to be housed with players from other schools. I've been doing this for 6 years now and I've had only positive experiences with students staying with other students. I took freshmen to Arcata for 4 years, and now Fortuna with JV players for the last two. The worst that has happened (knock on wood) was when a group of players showed up 20 minutes late to an assigned check in. According to the players, it was the family that they were staying with that made them late. I give students my cell phone to make sure that "the family excuse" doesn't happen again. The positives are numerous. Kids are responsible, respectful, and represent the community very well. They visit other schools and realize that they actually have it better than many people in some cases, or in others that students from a different socio-economic group, or races, are pretty cool.

How about a review on a basketball weekend:

-Our game is at 7:30 on Thursday evening. I wanted to leave at 2:15 for the two-and-a-half hour trip up Highway 101 to Fortuna. This way, students would have time to drive up, eat dinner, and check out the gym before the game.
-I go to Enterprise at 1:30 for the van. The person at the car rental agency says that the car was delivered to the school, something that has never happened before. I sigh, but go back to the school to find that the car hasn't arrived yet. It arrives late and I get out 15 minutes late. I caravan with two other parents.
-The road trip is like most with students. They talk a little at first, then within 30 minutes everyone is laughing and goofing off. The conversation is light and enjoyable, which makes for good chances to develop relationships with students. With realize that we have XM Radio in the car and listen to ESPN News while we drive. Within 20 minutes of Fortuna, most of the students are asleep. The drive is beautiful,with about 45 minutes of it going through the Avenue of the Giants Redwood Forest.
-Fortuna is a former logging town that now exists pretty much on Eureka's industry and the service industry. Eureka is about 15 miles north and has all the nice shopping. Our arrival was at the local shopping center, where players divided up into going to Subway or Roundtable Pizza (I chose the later).
-We get to the high school ahead of schedule and wait for our game. Fortuna's gym is actually quite nice and the people that work there are extremely polite. This was 180 degrees against my first experience with people from Fortuna, which was at the freshmen Arcata tournament. Fortuna parents were known to be a bit nasty, and a couple were downright verbally abusive a couple of times. Not so with the staff of the school. The only problem was that the temperature was about 35 degrees, and students kept leaving doors open to the gym. Brrrrrrr.
-We played McKinleyville. We played crappy at first, then ended the game on a 25 point high note. The difference was the man press that we jump into during the second half.
-I wait to make sure that all the kids are with their families, then check into my hotel, the Best Western. The room is actually very nice. I have lots of trouble winding down from games (and the Scotch stays home on school trips) so I head to the Denny's to read The Economist and grab a bite to eat. I run into some of my kid's parents and we talk about a couple of items and I read about the impact of religion on the world today. I walk back to my hotel room and talk to the Varsity coach on the phone as we talk about our respective games. I get back to the room, update the score on the website, and plan out how to beat Fortuna on Friday. I get to bed around 1 a.m.
-I wake up to a ringing cell phone on Friday about 8 a.m. A parent has been kind enough to report all scores to the local fish wrap (the Ukiah Daily Journal) and wants some comments. I'm groggy and I'm having trouble talking. I'm getting sick. I trudge to breakfast and then dress to head to Eureka to shop.
-Since my game is at 8:30 this evening, I have a lot of time to kill. I usually travel to Eureka to do Christmas shopping at the mall and Costco. I first hit the Starbucks (which is very cozy) and then walk downtown to some of the used bookstores. One is quite nice, the other (a 'rare' book store) has a grumpy old women running the helm. I'm feeling worse and worse so I don't stay much. I go to the local Natural Foods store and buy tea and throat lozenges, then head to the mall. I hate the mall. I walk the length of the damn thing and then realize that I just feel like shit and would rather be back at the hotel.
-I'm back in my room by 2. I spend the next few hours grading work, updating online grades, and calling people at the school.
-I'm at the gym by 5:30. The previous games weren't much to look at, but I'm interested in Cardinal Newman and Arcata.
-The students start commenting on the families (all of which were good) and the school (most of which describe classrooms that are out of control). Student attitudes were of shock at what students got away with.
-Arcata plays Newman and pretty much blows them off the court. Arcata is fast, big, and they can shoot. I heard some parents handing them the tourney championship already.
-We play Fortuna. Students experience the drama of playing against the same guys that are housing you. What they find out is that, like any other game, nobody likes to lose. The game is intensely physical. Every lay-up is contested and a whole lot of players are very beat up. After being down five at half, we win by ten. This time, we ran the Hurricane match-up zone that I learned from Jim Moore and Jack Danielson from Paradise High School. It worked like a charm and the kids ran it very well. Before I walk out of the gym, I've already planned to run it against Arcata tomorrow in the championship. If we go man, we'll get drilled.
-Once again I head to Denny's to wind down, and this time more parents are there and some kids. We have light-hearted conversation that needs to take place to prove that teachers are human too. Instead of the reading, the good nature of the environment takes the mind off of basketball, and I go to bed around one again.
-I wake up around 9 on Saturday morning, this time to the noise of people in the room above me. I hate bottom floors.
-I have breakfast, dress and check out, and I'm at the gym by 11:30. All the reports are that the kids and Fortuna families got along great, except that one family had their pipes burst overnight leaving some without showers (25 degrees in Fortuna overnight).
-Parents from Ukiah have drove up just to see this game. It's nice to see that they consider the championship game a big deal.
-Cardinal Newman plays Fortuna in the third place game and loses. The kids seemed pretty jazzed and pumped up over that. Eventually, you really do root for the team that houses you.
-The Arcata game is good. We play even for most of the first half and are down nine at halftime. They extend to 14 in the third before we go on a run in the fourth and cut it to six. Unfortunately, they are just too big and kill us on the boards. We lose by nine. I'm not disappointed in the slightest. They were a very good team and we fought and clawed the entire time until the very end. Excellent tournament for us.
-I find out after the game that nobody had given us a chance. One person told me that the "line was 18-20". With about 13 seconds left in the game, one of my players walked over to me and said, "Coach, we could have beaten these guys". Yep.
-We thank the Fortuna staff, pile into the cars, and start the trek home. Most players sleep on the way home after an exhausting weekend of hoops. We stop in Garberville for Aztec Grill and so I can top off the gas tank. After dropping the car off at the school, I begin to pack my car for the drive home. It is freezing cold at 8 p.m. in Ukiah (almost, it is about 35 degrees) and I'm constantly reflecting on the weekend. Thankfully, the results make me happy about the future. Good kids played good basketball, which makes for a lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I nice "Hello"

So I have a Facebook, which you could probably surmise from the link at right that says "Facebook". I decided to hop on Facebook when a professor from Puget Sound started touting the wonders of social networking, and then proceeded to point out that many more people my age are on Facebook than teenagers. Yes, students are there. Am I worried about possible problems with the site? Why should I be? I monitor it like any other site and take down the idiot comments (which haven't happened there). Otherwise, I'm the same wise-cracking smart ass there as I am anywhere else.

Anyway, I was added by a former student yesterday, one from my second year of teaching. The awkward part of the add was that this was a student that I thought really hated my guts. I mean, she was a ring leader of the "Mr. Silva-Brown is the Devil Fan Club". To be perfectly honest, I did make plenty of mistakes that I look back at and just cringe. But hell, I was a 2nd year teacher trying to find my bearings and just developing a confidence about my teaching. Back to the student, who while hating my guts, was also incredibly smart and had a great passion for being involved in politics. This was exactly the kind of student that I wanted in my class, but didn't know how to connect with because I was too busy trying to create a consistant classroom management plan. The result was a completely lost opportunity in developing a relationship with a student that had exactly what I was looking for in a potential first-class kid. In fact looking back on that year, I had two classes full of students that had enormous potential in terms of great relationships, but suffered from my lack of experiance. Alas, it would take a full extra year before I made the 'Aha!' about classroom management and began to focus on what really mattered in developing relationships with students.

I guess the tough part is feeling like you let select students down, and I constantly feel like e-mailing some of my early kids and saying, "Wow, I wish you could take the class now because you would love it. I'm just so much better". But getting the add from this one might be a hint of understanding and forgiveness. I also need to remember the student that e-mailed me over the summer stating that she had just graduated college and "threatened" to return to Ukiah and be my student teacher. Or the student from my first year that liked Econ Expo so much that he came back to judged them (a couple of others did the same later). Or running into Jeremey Maine from Mendo Locals, a former student that has a successful business and volunteered to come judge Econ Expo last year.

Maybe this is just another part of the teaching experience, dealing with students that come back and realize that they were kids, and you were really trying. I tell all my students that I refuse to talk political opinions until they take a few years and experience the world, then come back and we'll have a beer or coffee or whatever. This summer I had a request for a beer and coffee. I guess it's time to relax, drop the teacher mode, and just be Jeff to some of the old students.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't bother me, I'm Kindling

I don't know about you, but I can't constantly read a computer screen. I mean, reading short bursts of text on the screen (blogs, news articles) are just fine for the eyes of a computer nut, but the concept of a E-book doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. While the research portion of literature is perfect for the Net, I can't find myself reading a copy of Persepholis on the monitor before I head out to watch it at the theaters on December 26.

Well, Amazon has been humping this new device that is, in essence, a portable book machine. It's called Kindle, and while it seems to be all over the place in terms of advertising and promotion (you can't get away from it on Amazon), the review haven't been on the same level as, say, the IPhone. Most of the complaints seem to come from the lack of selection in the Amazon book library, as they haven't been able to update their collection to any form of prominence. I've also seen many complaints about the "page flip" buttons, which are so large that they flip the electric pages when you simply grab the Amazonian device.

I guess I just don't see the whole point to a portable book. I mean, the book is already portable. What the hell is the point of a monochrome monitor that portrays a half-assed collection? I can't get away from the sight of a good book, the smell of new pages and the ability to hold a nice paperback in one hand while relaxing in the bathtub. Nope, no Kindle or Sony Reader for me, I'm staying with the paper in binding.


It's not hard to explain. I've been real busy.

Not long after my last post I took a group to Stanford Model United Nations and then started the 07-08 basketball season with the JV Boys. The combination of the two (along with the usual twists that life throws at people) have left blogging out in the cold. It's a simple matter of priorities.

I guess that means that I'm not up for winning the top teacher blog in any contests, since the whole idea of blogging is a means of information and reflection, and is pretty useless when I'm not working on it. But oh well, the life of a teacher is not based on the ability to update a blog.

So I'm back.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

District Attorney starts to act

Our new District Attorney has decided to support education by going after the habitually truant students that are bringing down the school. As reported by the Ukiah Daily Journal, Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott has decided to take serious attendance infractions to court to go after parents that have no concern for their kids going to school. Lintott states that truant students are more likely to engage in crime, hence her new found concern. I like the fact that when she was going door-to-door during her campaign, she told me that she was going to look at going after serious offenders down the road. She has kept her promise.

I have a couple of serious truants in my class, and the fact that they get away with it is a joke. A few show up for a week, then take off and tell the counselors that they are waiting to get into Independent Study classes or to take the GED. In the meantime, the students take up spots in teachers classes and we are constantly reminded of the nightmare scenario; that parents clear all those missed absences and the teacher will have to give months worth of make-up work.

Nice to see the county finally getting involved.

"You mean I have to do an essay on my cruise??"

"Short-term Independent Study (STISP)" is the answer to the problem of getting ADA funding for students that take off for a week or more. Basically, students go to each teacher to get a weeks worth (or more) of assignments and a signature, and then take a vacation in most cases.

Take my classes. I've had 8 STISP's within the first two months of this young year. This week, I had four in one class alone. The trips, vacations, cruises, and hunting. Of course, nine out of ten students will do none of the assignments that I give them, and will fail the make-up quizzes they take when they come back. Add into that the fact that most students that take off are the students that can't afford to miss one day of class, much less a week or more. It's an ugly dilemma makes teaching Seniors that much more interesting when the end of the semester comes.

So what do I do about it? I put the responsibility on the student. It is after all "Independent Study", which the contract states is an agreement for the the student to study the subject matter while they are gone. Now I put information (including lecture notes) and all assignments online and direct the students to get the information from the Moodle. Since most of my assignments are quizzes, the student takes one quiz when they get back that represents all the quizzes they missed. That percentage then goes onto all the quizzes that were missed. Normally, nothing gets turned in for assignments and the quizzes are complete failures. Then, because it is obviously my fault, I get the heat for student failures.

About three hours after I got the comment in my header (yes, it was a real comment), I computed my grades for the quarter. It is the least prettiest it has ever been. Three classes of Government, about 90 students.........1 A, 19 F's. I had five A's earlier this week, until I had two vocabulary quizzes there weren't studied for and a political values packet that only one A student even bothered to turn in. After my second quiz, I asked my students the simple question:

"With the exception of studying today, how many of you bothered to study the vocabulary for the quiz today."

1 student in class A.
3 students in class B.
4 students in class C.

That would equal 8 students for those that are keeping score. 8 out of 90. Here's a hint, studying helps.

So does going to class.

Good for Bill Mahr

I really hate those 9/11 conspiracy theorists. I'm glad Bill Mahr wasn't nice to those idiots that wanted to sprout their crap on his show.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Imus is back December 3

And all is right with the world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Are we doing anything on Friday?

There is a point at which you just want to answer "No", and laugh about it when the student sees all the work they need to make up. Today seemed like a massive amount of "Are we doing anything tomorrow/Friday/etc", and my comment was always "Yes. I'm still trying to figure out if the question is actually that demeaning, if maybe the student is trying to gather some valuable piece of information that might keep them in my classroom. The problem is, this is school, and most of the time the kids are going on ski trips, going camping, and generally not making school any sort of priority.

This is even doubly disturbing because the quarter ends this Friday and students are well aware that the grades are simply awful. Out of three classes of Government students, totaling about 90 kids, I have two A's. Two! The student with the tenth highest grade out of all three classes has an 83%! What in the hell is going on here? And students want to leave on more vacations?

Serious analysis into the grades sees a very simple trend; low quiz scores, turning in only some homework, and absences. The impact of Homecoming this year was devastating on students, as most had no focus, totally bombed on the quizzes, or didn't show up at all and didn't do the make-up work. One student told me on Friday that "Homecoming was so not worth it. Everybody worked for a nothing event that means nothing for everybody. I wish it didn't even happen."

And now comes the attempted exodus. One of classes has a large population that feel that the class is too hard, that they have better things to do than study, and they want I'm at a point now of letting them go without any kid of battle, because these are not students that want to be here and have the potential to negatively impact my class anyway. Seriously, by the time they are Seniors in high school, why should I force 18 year olds to sit in class if they are doing everything to resist? You can only put up with so much "Fuckin Mendo 707, man. Smoke 24/7, bro. How come you got such a high test score? You have no fucking life. Party up." Jesus, I thought I was done teaching freshmen.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Carnival of Education


Well. What's been shaking?

-"Mr. Brown?"
"You have, like, no school spirit. Come on. It's Homecoming Week!"
"You want me to support your class?"
"Pay me."
"How much?"
"Depends on what you want me to do."
"Dress in all black on Friday to support the Seniors!"
"Do I have to cheer?"
"Ok, we are looking at at least $500 to get me to dress in black for the school day, and another $300 to do it during the football game. To get a 'Go Seniors' out of me, it will cost $50 a cheer."
"Are you serious?"
"I'm an Economics teacher. I work best with incentives."
Thank God this week is almost over.

-The worst classroom management issue I suffer from this year is cell phones, with occasional profanity (from only three students, all in the same class) a far second. The cell phone issue is a menace, with my rules finally including all purses and backpacks on the floor because kids use them as shields. Thankfully, all the cases are first offenses, which means that I give it back at the end of class with the agreement that further offenses get sent to the office. I've only had one offense first period, a half dozen second, closer to ten during third, a couple in fourth, and a couple in fifth. School wide it has become a major problem. I'm ready for the cell phone jammers in the classroom, and actually researched them for purchase on E-Bay. But the darn FCC says that I can't do it. Hmmmmmm, well see......

-I have a variety of students that attended class for a week, haven't shown up since then with hopes of getting on independent study, didn't get into independent study, and are now in a bind. One student's parent mentioned that they were going to excuse every absence for their kid, forcing the teacher to give a months worth of make up work and forcing the teacher to grade it. I used to cringe, but with my Moodle, everything is there waiting. Fine, the kid has the work online, but will have to do twice as much for a month, and be in my class every day at lunch to make up the quizzes he missed. I give at least three a week, sometimes one every day. For the next month a kid that hasn't even made it to class is going to do twice the work and have an extra quiz every day at lunch? Some parent gave that those kids the wrong advice.

-On Monday I'll be playing doubles tennis with a counseling dean against members of the girl's varsity tennis team. I haven't played tennis since I was 19 and I forgot how to serve. Is that bad?

Back from the brink

School stress got ugly over the last week (nothing with the classroom), and it took a nasty turn on my health (think roaring blood pressure).

Now I'm back.

CTA says that I'm a lair

Well, as you noticed last week, I called out the CTA on comments they made on a draft proposal for voluntary teacher bonuses. They sent out an e-mail saying that Rep. George Miller was trying to pass a bill that would link teacher salaries with test results. After being enraged, I called the congressman, got a copy of the bill proposal, and sent a letter to the UTA leadership and the teachers telling them that the message was incorrect. I received an e-mail from our President stating that the e-mail had been forwarded to the CTA district rep.

The response I received was that of a head official addressing an inferior. It was full of politicizing crap and basically stated that I was wrong in my interpretation of the proposal. I was severely irritated and I went into the bill and cut-n-paste the portions that I felt where correct back into my response and sent it off. I then received a response that included a CTA legal brief and the insistence that I wasn't a lawyer, therefore could not understand the bill. I read the legal brief and it stated that the CTA was against the bill for two reasons.

1. It was negative to the collective bargaining process.
2. It would make teachers divisive and that was not in the best interest of unionism.

Neither one is acceptable as a reason not to support the bill. First, the bill clearly asks for union support of teacher evaluations, and second, the best interest of unionism is the best interest of its members, and giving bonuses to hard working teachers is in the best interest of the profession, period. Plus, nowhere in the bill does it say that teacher salaries are linked to test scores, which is in the e-mails that I continue to receive (including the one I received five minutes ago).

So, I attended the UTA meeting this week with the intent to tell site reps that when they talk to their members, make sure to tell them that the e-mails going around are not true and that they should go read the bill summary for themselves. When the time came our chair made a spiel about making sure to call every Congressman on the planet to not support the proposal. I piped up and asked to speak, but was immediately told that we "had to move on". I stated that there was misinformation on the information provided, but I was again told to pipe down. Surprise, I didn't. I used my "teacher voice" and stated the location of the bill on a website, and that the CTA was not informing the members correctly about the bill. I was then told two things that blew my mind. First, that what I said was irreverent because the CTA lawyers knew more than anyone. And second, that since we were a unit of the CTA that we were to follow their directions without question. To say the least, I wasn't happy. My parting shot (whether immature or not) was asking our President, "Did you read the proposal". I received no answer, was hushed down and we moved on.

Being a history/government teacher, I have an incredible appreciation of the concept of a union. I have massive respect for the members that fight for our "fair days work at a fair days pay", while also understanding that the economics sometimes don't allow for the best conditions possible. However, the next day I was told that many in that room felt my actions rude and disrespectful, out-of-line and not in the best interest of the organization.

Organization? Isn't it the best interest of the profession that we are talking about? Isn't this an organization that demands "One person, one vote"? Don't I pay dues to this organization and wasn't I asked by members of my school to represent their best interest? What I see is an organization that is primarily full of a generation of people that have followed the standard CTA party line without ever looking at the facts. I don't see the young teachers there because they are busy barely keeping their heads above the water and are discouraged from coming to meetings where their voice isn't really heard. As the district changes, this must change.

Fine, I wasn't at my most diplomatic at the moment, and maybe this post in itself is immature and petulant. However, young teachers looking to get into the profession don't really understand what the union is about and either leave it others or follow the party line without questioning. I brought the Bonus Pay proposal to teachers in my building and well over half had interest. Therefore, a voice is needed for that position, whether the organization that I pay into likes it or not. Sometimes, that voice needs to speak up to be heard.

One last thing to leave you with, because I'm sure the image out there will be that I hate my local union and I'm just up for rabble rousing. At the previous meeting I voted with the vast majority on EVERYTHING. At this meeting I voted with the vast majority on everything EXCEPT ONE ISSUE that I wanted addressed. I don't want to rabble rouse, I wanted value for my dues, and to make an honorable profession better.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The kind of posts that make you all fuzzy inside.

I had to add Scheiss Weekly to my blogroll because she simply kicks ass. I don't know what the hell I was thinking holding her off, since I'm visiting all the freaking time.

This week she has one of those posts, again, that just sums it all up.

The thing is, you see, that teaching children to behave in public is actually the job of the home, and when the home doesn't do its job, the teacher is forced to do it, along with his/her actual job, which is to teach children to communicate clearly, to figure things out on one's own, to calculate and to draw and to write and to sing and to play the violin, and to generally take care of oneself so that when the child is grown, he/she will know how to do these things and be a productive, happy, creative citizen who will require his/her own children to buck up and show some spunk, too. To those of you who are horrified that I do not mention the teacher's job of motivating students, I will have only this to say: Motivation is also the job of the home and of the student himself/herself. The teacher can inspire, but one can motivate only oneself.

Because of many homes' refusal to teach simple behavior skills and any desire for learning, teachers have to devote much of the time formerly used for actual teaching, to disciplining, refereeing, first aid, breaking up fights, putting up with talking out, inappropriate language, touching, bullying, stealing, swiping, teasing (which is a kind of bullying, in my opinion) and just generally policing a classroom instead of helping children learn to sing, draw, paint, play, write, communicate, figure, debate, organize, and safely think out of the box. Really? Anything the students and the teacher are required to "put up with" that holds the majority of the class back, should not be there.

I believe that any behaviors that hinder a class's ability to relax, smile, learn, demonstrate learning, leave their property unguarded, go to the restroom without fear, concentrate,hear what's going on, continually move up up up, and be able toexperience a positive learning environment free of disruption, shouldnot be allowed under any circumstances.

Wow. Doesn't that just get you totally head-over-heels for the Mamacita?

I'm fortunate that my classroom management is super easy this year, with only one problem in one class that has the potential of becoming an issue. However, I'm already hearing the horror stories of kids misbehaving, parents calling out the teacher, then the parents calling out the teacher to the admin because the teacher had a "bad tone". Bad tone? How about the fact that your kid willfully breaks class policies?

Anyway, I'm in love with this post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Carnivial of Education

I've been so busy as of late that I haven't been giving the proper respect to the Blog Father, The Education Wonks, and his Carnival of Education.

Go visit it, before he makes me an offer I can't refuse.

Hey CTA, I'm paying you. The least you could do is tell the truth.

It must have been the e-mail that had huge font.

"Nancy Pelosi and George Miller are no longer friends of the CTA. They are trying to get a bill passed that links teacher salaries to testing! We can't let this stand! Rise up and prepare the Dogs of War to battle! Remember the Alamo! Truth, Justice and the American Way!", or something like that.

Of course, this immediately made me cast doubt. My guess was that the local CTA rep, a guy who makes it always look like Sacramento and the local school districts are on the level of the Chinese Communist Party, was simply feeding into the NCLB re-authorization frenzy. So, irritated but calm, I went home and started to do a little research.

Then came my wife came home, flying through the door, enraged and going on about a CTA e-mail that said that test scores would determine her salary. First of all, you link test scores to salary and you will lose teachers, period. While NCLB is correct in holding schools more accountable, it is implemented in a fashion that makes you wonder if Cliff Clavin is the man in charge. It would reward schools in affluent districts and punish schools with Second Language Learners, Special Education students, and the economically disadvantaged students. Plus, I don't like the idea that my pay could be attached to some asshole parent that simply signs her kid out of the test because she hates the Principal or reads a column from that moron K.C. Meadows. So my wife and I calmed down and called the office of Rep. George Miller. The lady on the phone was aware that the CTA was in a panic mode, and was clearly confused at why the union had decided to go on the defensive. She pointed us to the document, which isn't a bill, isn't an amendment, but a draft sheet of a possible proposal..........aka, it's really nothing.

We investigated the document and found that the proposal isn't a connection between test scores and pay, it's a voluntary bonus incentive program. Highlights:

-performance pay bonuses of up to $10,000 for outstanding teachers.....The evaluation criteria must be developed in collaboration with local teacher unions and based on multiple measures of success including student learning gains, principal evaluations, and master teacher evaluations, based on objective criteria.

-Competitive grants for high-need school districts to establish career ladder programs that increase salaries for those teachers who expand their knowledge and skills and take on additional responsibilities or leadership roles within the school. Teachers who serve as master teachers as part of a state-of-the-art induction program can receive up to $10,000 annually while mentor teachers can receive up to $5,000 annually.

I don't get it. This is asking, requiring, that unions collaborate with the district in creating criteria that will get good teachers a bonus for good teaching, and did I mention, THIS PROGRAM IS ENTIRELY VOLUNTARY!!!!!!!!! It is voluntary to the district and voluntary to teachers! Then, oh my God, you are telling that if a teacher decides to increase their knowledge or skill base, THEY COULD MAKE MORE?????? Ok, where do I sign up?

Seriously, you make a fair evaluation of what an "outstanding teacher" is and I'll be in line for this program. I'm confident that the administration that would be evaluating me (management) would do so with regards to high standards and quality teaching. I'm fairly confident (you might call it arrogance) that I would pass the evaluation. If not, then I'm sure that I could do what is necessary for a nice financial incentive that will be ON TOP of my regular salary. Oh, and what about the career ladder program? Let's see, this summer I:

-attended a two day San Francisco Federal Reserve Conference
-attended a five day Seattle Advanced Placement Conference
-attended a seven day Teaching American History Workshop
-began the three year Teaching American History Program
-attended a five day workshop on developing curriculum in Social Studies in Santa Rosa
-took a class on the Roots of Terrorism
-took a class on Van Gogh's Impact on Impressionism
-took a class on Urban Transportation in U.S. History
-Created the Advanced Placement Comparative Government class at the high school (after creating International/Global Studies last summer)

Oh, I don't know, I think that I'm working towards bettering myself as a teacher for the benefit of students. I don't see a damn thing wrong with the government saying, "You know what, you deserve something extra for showing that you really want to be the best", since the CTA hasn't done a goddamn thing to acknowledge that fact but continue to raise my tax to that corrupt corporation.

However, this is why I decided to be a site rep for my local union. This morning I sent a letter to the local powers-that-be and told them that the message was a lie. Then I told them the truth. I then sent a message to all the teachers at my site and told them the same thing. After all, unlike the CTA, I realize that I represent them, the membership. It is their money the union spends. The least we could do is tell them the truth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And let's talk about taser boy.

A kid who had a history of outragous pranks asks a U.S. Senator about Bill Clinton's blow-job, and then resists four police officers and screams that the police are going to kill him.

Can you honestly say that the guy was tasered for free speech???? You don't think the 2 minutes that the cops were warning him and the guy constantly resisting had something to do with it? You think that if he'd shut his mouth after his first question (he asked many, and Kerry was trying to answer) and walked away that the police would have said, "No you little prick, get yo' ass on the ground right now! Next time, ask a question about a Tom Friedman book or you'll be shot!"

Somewhere in the mix of shouting "Free Speech", people forget the idea that comes with responsible actions and they end up making James Madison a genius for his thoughts in Federalist #10.

I've seen evidence of police brutality (duh, there are assholes in every profession), and this was not police brutality.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Our new principal has revived a tradition at the high school level that hasn't been a morning ritual since I've been here; the singing of the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance. The singing isn't an every day thing, some days are attached to a patriotic quote or a small tidbit of patriotic information that is important to this country's history. But once or twice a week, classes are supposed to stand and salute the flag (a salute could simple be standing) to pay homage to the values that this country stands for.

One teacher came to me and said that in Northern California, the Pledge of Allegiance has become a symbol of ignorance, and that was a tragedy. I'm inclined to agree with him. However, as a Government teacher, I was put in an interesting position when asked by my students "What are my rights regarding the Pledge?" Part of my interest in teaching Government is ability to tell kids what their rights are, and also to make sure that they understand that having "rights" doesn't always make that decision correct. My answer to the students was that they were under no obligation to do anything during the Pledge but sit quietly and not disturb others. Then I attached the precedent court case to the issue, and then I explained that I would stand and face the flag because I wanted to give a small "thank you" to the country that gave me the opportunity to succeed in what I wanted to do in life. It was also my moment to show respect to those that fought and died, regardless of which politician sent them to battle, for the values of this country. Although I don't give political opinions, I'm not hesitant in the slightest to tell students that they are fortunate to live in the greatest country in the world. Then I tell them that its up to them to keep it that way.

During the two actual Pledge's during the first week, 0 out of 34 students stood. This drew the ire of some teachers that felt that I was giving off an atmosphere that was subtly anti-American. This is absolutely untrue of course. I think that students being able to make a choice that's legally theirs is very American, and by the way, I'm modeling saluting the flag.

This week about 25% of the kids stood for the Pledge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Teacher Forever?

After dealing with certain school issues last year, and now being told by the Federal Government that we are Program Improvement, teachers are starting to question whether or not the profession is really for them. I can't really blame people. The media is against teachers, the town shows no signs of attracting business (which equals enrollment), the environment is non-academic and incredibly expensive, and worst of all, change is not looking positive for the long term. This is a clear sign of "stay away" for young teachers, or simply a sign to get your feet wet and go to greener pastures down the road, something that I've heard mentioned a half dozen times in the last month.
I have to admit, I've talked about it with my wife. We have both expressed interest in getting Master's Degrees, and possibley looking to teach at higher levels. By Master's, I mean degrees that we really enjoy acquiring, not that buy-me-over-a-year degrees in Education that would be painfully boring, and somewhat humiliating. I'm interested in Master's Degrees in History, Political Science (more towards International Relations), or Urban Planning. Hell, I would go back to school and get a BA in Urban Planning if I had to. I would enjoy it! However, both of us feel that where we work is a huge factor in us sticking around. We both like our schools a lot, like the people in that admin position, and we really like our colleagues. I love the people I work with; people with dedication, high standards, and a passion for helping kids succeed in society. I feel very protective of my department and consider it the best on campus, which might be why I get a little pissy about media articles that tear apart hard working people.

This entire mode of thought came from a post I read this morning in Dy/Dan, a teacher that graduated from, of all places, Ukiah High School. It sounds like he's got the itch to move on, to go on to greener pastures. His trade-off situation is interesting; does he want to go into Administration, or go after his Doctorate. As is probably evident, I would go after my Doctorate and wouldn't even bother attempting a administrative position. My weakest part of teaching is parent relations, and an administrator needs to have good PR skills. I'll say "No" and then "because that's the way it is", which doesn't go well with everyone.

In the end, it looks like he's just a little burned out, already. I offered him some advice; calm down, put a little more attention towards yourself, and realize that the most important stuff goes on in the classroom. If you burn yourself out by preparing, you're no good when the payoff comes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

KC Meadows is painfully stupid

A colleague of mine brought an article to my attention from the Ukiah Daily Journal. It was from the Editor in Chief, and local education hate-monger, KC Meadows. On Thursday she wrote a welcome message to the new Superintendent of the district, Lois Nash. The letter was full of sarcastic, backhanded remarks that were meant to give off a completely negative image of the school system in Ukiah.
Before I tear this garbage to shreds, let me remind you that this is the same Meadows that came into my classroom and tried to trash the school while Rep. Mike Thompson was speaking to my students. This is the same Meadows that didn't want the school up to code for Title IX or the Americans With Disabilities Act because she felt it was too big to upgrade. Finally, this is the same Meadows that was advocating for a community marijuana garden in a plot of land across the street from the high school.
So KC made some rather rude remarks pointed at the district. Here are some of the ignorant brats shots, and the truth........

"We have test scores that......are far from something to crow about. We have several schools in the federal equivalent of detention for their lack of progress."

-The truth is, the high school made some of it's largest gains in the history of the school. Not only did the school meet its score goal, it jumped almost 45 points above it. All subgroups made target gains. We met all the goals of the AYP, but failed to pass the NCLB requirement because of the same reason many schools are failing. According to Federal Law, teachers must follow the conditions of the IEP, even if they require accommodations for the tests. We also have some of the highest populations of special education students in the state. If teachers make accommodations for students (like reading the test to the student), the test is invalidated. Guess what, we got a group of tests invalidated and didn't meet the 22 benchmarks for passage. It is the NCLB paradox. Follow federal mandate......or follow the other federal mandate. There is no way around it.

"We have a school district that is hostile to local charters."

-Please. You should see some of the proposals for the local charter schools they want to open in this town. Most have no long term projections, haven't a clue about the state standards, and have absolutely no plan for fiscal responsibility. Meadows, like the rest of the "charters are the answer" crowd, would rather have anyone with a pulse run a school instead of people that have a clue.

"We have gangs and drugs circulating on our middle and high school campuses"

-Is it me, or is it just plain funny that a staunch advocate for the protection of marijuana rights is complaining about drugs in our schools? Drugs circulating on our campuses???? How about the entire town. It's pretty difficult for the school, one of the last islands were drugs are actually illegal, to fight the entire community when the newspaper promotes it, the government won't prosecute it, and people readily accept it. As for the gangs, in the last three years the violence on campus has taken a huge drop off as the administration and teachers continue to work towards nailing the gang problem. But again, until the community actually decides to rise up and solve the problems of Laws and Observatory Avenues, gangs won't go away.

She then went on to rave about the community supporting the school, and then implied that the schools don't appreciate it. This is the crux of the issue that involves everything that needs to be fixed in Ukiah, California. Teachers are thankful for the community leaders and business people that take the time to work with kids. Hell, if I had a nickel for every time I saw Marty Lombardi of Mendocino Savings Bank helping kids, I'd be on a beach in Maui. Not to mention the support from local groups and business that help arts, music, sports and just plain support the goings on of the school. But here is the truth: the town is not an environment for learning, and it doesn't wish to become one. Take the front pages of the local paper. Often they are stories that are either about the legalization of drugs (whether it be the "mean police" or effort of government to rein it in) or problems with the school district. The town is losing population because the culture is not conducive to industry. People complain that businesses (other than Big Box retail) are not coming to the town, and in the same breath curse the police for raiding their pot garden that attracted thieves and enhanced the meth problem of the town. If the paper really had balls, they would work with the community in making a plan for the town that would promote smart growth in hopes of attracting good companies and making the atmosphere conducive to learning. This would include a campaign for "smart expansion" (don't simply grow, do it right), working with schools to help the local atmosphere of the town, working towards eliminating the drug culture of the community, and connecting with local economic councils to attract business to the area that will bring the community to a more prosperous level.

Of course, this is all a pipe dream. As long as the village idiot, KC Meadows, runs the paper, we will continue to see all the issues of the school that are actually problems with the town. More articles will come out that promote drug use, and slash and burn the school. One wonders what kind torture that Meadows went through at Ukiah High School that seems to bring out this resentment towards the hard working citizens and students that make the school function. Regardless of that answer, Meadows' crap will continue to show the community where her soul really lies; away from education, and at the bottom of the pool of bong water that she promotes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Scheiss Weekly explains the state of Education to perfection. Read it, if you have the guts.

Program Improvement

Ukiah High School officially became a Program Improvement School this year. The primary reason was simple....most years did not find enough students taking the stupid tests. AP students didn't take them because they were redundant, Latino students didn't take them for two years because of stupid protests, and many parents would simply sign students out of the tests because they didn't like it.

Sure, and tests really measure the performance of a school.

Just wait until the electives are gone, people. You will have little to blame but yourselves.


I did it because I see some changes on the horizon for the school district, and I see very few young teachers doing anything about.

I became a site representative for the Ukiah Teacher's Association, yet again.

I might just be a glutton for punishment, but I see too much coming down the pike to simply sit and wait for stuff to happen without a say. So yesterday afternoon, out of nowhere, I decided to participate in the union.

The meetings still haven't changed much, except that the issues seem to be much more relevant as the times have changed. Now that we are Program Improvement District, the issues of time management and the god awful meetings that are coming will probably be in the debate bin. Highlights from the meeting:

-The group is slimming down bureaucracy, something that I see as beneficial for the overall management of the group. I like that the position is gone, but I don't like the knowledge that went with it, which will be addressed at a later meeting.
-A CTA rep came in and helped offer legislation that was basically a method of pissing people off. I won't get into specifics except to say that unions should not make shows of force in situations that don't need a show of force.
-On the other hand, I found out how much our new superintendent makes. She makes more than our last one, by a lot. And she will get a significant raise next year. And a comparable one the year after that. The district is, in the meantime, in financial straights. I have a shitty computer, I'm missing desks, and we are some of the lowest paid teachers with some of the worst health care in Mendocino County. Fine, I'll eat getting a raise to help the district. A good manager would buck up and do the same.
-We gave members of another school district money when they went on strike. I was not only never notified about this, I never voted on it either. On a sidenote, this was announced right after the CTA rep said "One Person, One Vote". I forgot to mention to the rep that I didn't get to vote on the CTA tax increase either.
-It was a big deal that CTA corporate chief Barbara Kerr retired. Thank you for raising dues and stealing my money without my permission. Don't let the doorknob hit you where the dog should have bit you.

My promise to myself is that I'll stick with the union gig as long as it doesn't impact my teaching. Anything that irritates me too much isn't worth it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Week one done

Well, my first week of my seventh year has come and gone, and all is quiet on the western front. My classes have worked out very nicely so far, and my one classroom management concern has actually become empowered with the class and has made very excellent contributions to discussions. I'm concerned about the International Studies class, but I think that I might be putting too much pressure on myself to make this some God-like experience for the students. My AP level class is currently learning college prep economics, and I already get a sense that college prep work is beneath them, or so they think. It will be interesting how they address economic problems that have simple answers, because this is a group that wants to throw every variable known to man into every equation.

I was pretty happy with my choice to make a last minute change on the first serious assignment that I do. I used to take the Preamble of the Constitution, split up the sections, and have students create artistic renditions of what those sections of the Preamble meant to them in groups. Why the art? Honestly, because the ELL crowd was really humping the "diverse instruction" part of education so much that I thought that it was really doing some good. What I found was that students where not totally engaged. Sure, a group would draw, but the discussion was minimal and students would either do their own thing on paper or do nothing. Instead I took the same sections of the Preamble and told the students to cite successes and failures of the United States in meeting the roles stated in the Preamble. Students were engaged and throwing ideas down on paper, which would often lead to side discussions about government. The change was good and effective.