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 excuses.....family 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 out........now. 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

Evolve.

Well. What's been shaking?

-"Mr. Brown?"
"What?"
"You have, like, no school spirit. Come on. It's Homecoming Week!"
"You want me to support your class?"
"Yeah!"
"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?"
"Yeah!!!"
"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.