Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kick in the gut

I write this knowing full well that I'm lucky to have a job and I'm happy to be in this profession.  Still...........

I got the paper that had my schedule for next year on it.

International and Global Studies- 1 class

Advanced Placement Comparative Government- 1 class

United States History- 3 classes

I literally looked on the backside of the paper for an error.  Um, where was Government/Economics?  The answer was that I was kicked.  Basically, because we had to lay-off a teacher, I'm now the low man on the pole and other teachers wanted to teach Gov/Econ, so it got taken. 

Fine, I'll teach U.S., but I was passionate about Gov/Econ.  I mean really passionate.  I put seven years into the subject that few in my department liked to teach, and that I was thrown into during my first year.  The school and my students have reaped the rewards of my passionate investment into the subject, and it is now gone.  Tough to contemplate the enormous extra effort into creating and loving something so much, and being good at it, and having it go away not because you are bad at it, but ....... just because.


Monday, May 26, 2008

What actually happened on those McCain sub days

Saturday's mornings are now reserved from the Ukiah Farmer's Market.  From now until the middle of fall, my wife and I will be visitors to the dozen or so booths that are set up for plants, veggies, organic meats, and other items that are sometimes a reasonable value, but often way overpriced.

It was in the Farmer's Market that I found out that my sub plans for Thursday and Friday were not followed.  I ran into a student's family who was selling plants at a very reasonable price (we bought quite a few).  This student said "hi" to me, and then said,

"What happened yesterday?"

"I was at the McCain rally."

"No, I mean what was with the sub?"

This is one of the last things that I want to ever hear.

"What do you mean?", I asked.

  "Well, she said you didn't leave her anything."

Oh God.

"And we did all of these weird crosswords that had nothing to do with Economics."

God no.

"And then we watched all these bizarre videos.  I just wondered what happened."

So do I. 

I walked away immensely frustrated that I can't leave my classroom for two day for professional experience because someone can't read a damn sheet of paper. 

System needs fixing.  Today.

Sub plan for the McCain rally days


1. 1st Period Advance Placement Comparative Government

a. Show news. End after the Newshour summary is over.

b. Give students the “How to write a bill” sheet. Give them the following websites



c. Take the kids to the library to start researching facts for their bills.

i. Tell them that bills are to be no longer than one full page (front and back allowed).

d. Tell kids to meet in the library tomorrow. They will be doing the same thing.

2. 2nd, 3rd, 5th Period- Economics

a. Show news. End after the Newshour summary is over.

b. Have the students divide up into groups of 3 or 4.

c. Hand out “Franchising Know-How” to each student and have them read over it in groups. Tell them that this information will be on the final.

d. Have each group then write down the advantages and disadvantages of the following franchises. 7-Eleven, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Intercontinental Hotels Group (very high class hotel), Ace Hardware, Jiffy Lube, Great Clips (haircuts), Super 8 Motels.

e. Each group is to then write down with franchise they would most likely invest in and why. This should take up the period.

f. If the students end early, show the “McDonald’s International” video (on tv cart).

3. 4th Period- International Studies:

a. Show news. End after the Newshour summary is over

b. Students are working on creating their own countries. Tell them that by Tuesday, the following is required:

i. A list of international organizations, entities, or other countries that you refuse to recognize and why. They can be real countries in modern day, or the other countries in class.

ii. A flag

iii. A national anthem

1. Extra credit if it is actually sung in class

iv. A country motto or slogan


1. 1st Period-Advanced Placement Comparative Government

a. No News

b. In library working on bills

2. 2nd, 3rd, 5th- Economics

a. No News

b. Students are back into their groups. This time, they attempt to create their own franchise. Have students make a list of the items that they would need to be included in all parts of the franchise contract. Be specific in estimating all necessary details. Give students about 30 minutes or so.

c. Have students from each group go and visit other groups. Have one member stay behind. The members of the groups will then introduce the franchise and the visiting student will either agree to buy it, or not. Groups are to keep track of how many people bought into their franchise.

d. Again, show McDonald’s International (if you haven’t done so) if you end early. Most likely, you won’t need to.

3. 4th Period-International Studies

a. No News

b. Students are working on creating their own countries. Tell them that by Tuesday, the following is required:

i. A list of international organizations, entities, or other countries that you refuse to recognize and why. They can be real countries in modern day, or the other countries in class.

ii. A flag

iii. A national anthem

1. Extra credit if it is actually sung in class

iv. A country motto or slogan


The usual stuff; bathroom, discipline, attendance items, are on a separate sheet.  This was left on the front student desk in plain view.  In fact, I was there and my students (who are very reliable) watched me put it there.  Can't go wrong, right?

McCain's fundraiser

After leaving the rally I sped through the Interstate 5 traffic and made my way to the home of Alex Spanos.  I had never been to the home of a billionaire, so I really had no idea what to expect.  Of course, I had to get through the Secret Service and Stockton Police department first.  The Spanos home is in a neighborhood that looks like any other middle class neighborhood, except that there is a huge gate in front of the residence.  All access to the home was cut off by law enforcement, which required me to park down the street and walk about three blocks to the entrance to the grounds.  Maybe the Honda wasn't fancy enough to get through the blockade. 

My connections not only got me into the rally, but got me a ticket to a very nice fundraiser where the clientele paid thousands of dollars to rub elbows with some rather important political and business figures.  I was even more fortunate that I was going to get my picture taken with the Senator himself, John McCain. 

I met my connections to the Spanos estate, went through yet another Secret Service post, and made my way towards the main house.  I'm not kidding with the term "estate", because the Spanos clan knows how to make a nice atmosphere.  The property has a huge pond and a running creek, along with plenty of space to host, well, easily a thousand people.  We made our way to the main house, where we checked in again, and entered to a beautifully tasteful dwelling that inspired more respect than awe.  Yes, it was big, but it didn't seem gaudy or pretentious.  It looked like a house that someone could actually live in without the fear of breaking something really, really valuable.  We got in a line a people waiting to take a picture with the senator when I started to get introduced to people.  The Republican candidate for the congressional district Dean Andal and I conversed again, I met State Senator Jeff Denham, a variety of Assemblymen,  the former CEO of E-Bay Meg Whitman, and the former Secretary of Energy under Ronald Reagan, John Herrington.  Most seemed pretty down to earth, and Herrington was another person that didn't mind a "real" conversation, which was refreshing. 

Our line came upon an alcove in the home where Senator McCain and the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger were both posing for pictures with people.  My turn came to take the picture, along with one of my contacts.  The progression was McCain, my partner, myself, and Arnold.  As I passed next to the Governor, he asked how I was doing and shook my hand.  I stood next to him and said, "Fine, thank you Governor".  He gave me one of those narrow eyed, sidelong glances that he seems famous for.  I'm not kidding.  Oh, and Schwarzenegger might be big, but he is not tall at all.  5'11" maybe.  It felt a little weird being taller than the Terminator.  When the picture was snapped I passed by McCain, who reached out for my hand and said, "Thank you so much for coming".  I shook has hand and simply said "Thanks for everything you've done for the country, Senator".  He nodded and I moved on.  The encounter was brief and uneventful, but I got to shake the hand of someone that I had admired politically for many years. 

Next was the "rubbing elbows" reception that included very elegant food, excellent booze that I couldn't drink because I had to drive four more hours, and speeches from Arnie and McCain.  I wandered, not having much to say to anyone and doing more people watching than anything.  I recognized a few names from political blogs or news items, but didn't say anything since I had paid nothing to be here and it was something I just wanted to experience, not screw up.  Arnold spoke first, made some nice jokes about his wife Maria Schriver liking Barak Obama, and then introduced John McCain. 

I'm a firm believer that if McCain were to speak to the American people like to spoke at that fundraiser, he would easily win the General Election in November.  He first started off making jokes about Schwarzenegger and the rivalry between California and Arizona.  Then he talked about getting the support of other Republican voters, making a comment about the typical Ron Paul voter that was uproariously funny.  McCain then told a hilarious Irish joke (commenting that it was odd that the only acceptable ethnic jokes seemed to be Irish jokes), and spoke about the unity of the country.  He then went on to talk about the party issues; the War on Terror, Obama's inexperience, bloated government, and patriotism.  But this speech was different than the rally.  The energy was even more apparent and the passion seemed even more alive.  The end of the speech got into the economic realm as he started talking about the importance of innovation and the role of California as an economic leader of the country.  McCain pointed to Silicon Valley as the region where the gas price problem was going to change because the innovative spirit was going to advance technology.  His final words were about his commitment to coming to California to campaign because he felt like he could actually win the state in November.  While I highly doubt that, it was nice to seem him very animated.  When he was done, I was done.  I walked back to my car and began the four hour journey home.  I got back around 11:30 at night.

The experience was fun.  I met a lot of nice people and saw the side of a campaign from the inside, and from the point of view of people that can afford that kind of close access.  I would do it again if I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes of Obama's campaign.   

Friday, May 23, 2008

Senator McCain's rally

On Tuesday evening, I was presented with the opportunity to attend a John McCain rally and a VIP fundraiser. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

Yes, this means that I took a day off school, and no I don't feel the slightest bit guilty. First of all, I teach Government. You can't get much closer to government than going to campaign event and meeting heavy-hitters in politics. Mix in the fact that many Seniors are gone on the Senior Trip (a joke that I will address later), and I didn't even blink when asked to attend the event.

I left for the four hour trip at around 9:30 in the morning. The first event I was going to attend was a nationally televised rally at the Alex Spanos Jet Center at Stockton's Airport. Spanos is a real estate developer that has a worth of about 1.1 billion dollars. He has frequently endorsed Republicans and was helping with a fundraiser that would take place this evening. In other words, he is uber-rich. I arrived at about 2 p.m., with the wind whipping like crazy across the flat expanse of the airport. The parking was easy and I had arrived just as the gates to the event were opened.

About 300 yards away from the Jet Center was the Secret Service check point. These were white and black clad officers, gun in full view, that would check bags and wave a wand around you to make sure that there was no funny stuff sneaking into the event. They were very nice and very direct. More than once an agent asked how my day was while he searched or "wanded" me. The Secret Service agents that were in suits were all business, never cracking a smile and always aware of everything. While McCain walked a rope line after the speech, the agents made sure that all hands were void of any objects (they gave us small flags upon entering the event, which had to be dropped to meet the Senator), and that people stayed behind their imaginary line. It was all business.

Upon entering the event I met my contact and was escorted up to the stage behind the microphone. This picture at left was about 90 minutes prior to the Senator's entrance to the event. Joining me on the stage were a few younger students, many veterans, and a large population of ethnic east Asians. Since all politics is perception, I understood the students and vets, but what was the point of this particular ethnic population? It's not a racist question, it's a political question. Diversity maybe? If so, where was the Hispanic representation on the stage? I'm just making an interesting observation.

We were told constantly that we were going to be on national television and that smiles and energy were very necessary. We were given small U.S. and California flags, "Vote John McCain" signs, and signs like "Farmers (heart) McCain" and "Go Mac Go!" that looked like they were made by 6th graders. Yes, I think it was intentional, part of the simple charm. Then came the practice. Dean Andal's campaign helped organize the event and he came out at around 3 p.m. and started to get the crowd prepped for McCain's arrival. Andal is running for a House seat in a very contested district that traditionally voted Republican until the 2006 congressional elections. Now he's looking to take the seat back. He seems like a very nice man, someone who was not afraid to talk to me about my teaching and coaching while not going overboard on the party line. Dean tried to work the crowd into "We want MAC!" chants, plus the always patriotic "U.S.A." chant. The crowd seemed a little subdued during practice, but full of energy when McCain arrived. The party organizers stated that about 1,200 showed up. News 10 out of Sacramento gave the number at around 500. I would say that the crowd was much closer to 1000.

Local Republican assemblymen, state senators, judges and sheriffs came forward and made a couple of speeches about local issues, and why the people should vote for John McCain. The main focus on the local positions towards McCain was his stance on taxes and the inexperience of Barack Obama. Their was also a moving story of a teacher motivated by a former student that was injured while fighting in Iraq. Mix in a little mariachi music from a local band and you had all the signs of an attempt at a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

McCain's chartered Jetblue A-320 landed right on time at around 4 p.m. and he was escorted to the Jet Center by Rolling Thunder, a non-profit group that rides around on Harleys and advocates for POWs and MIAs. With him was Pete Wilson, Steve Poizner (Insurance Commissioner), and his California campaign head honcho, Bill Jones. When he was introduced, the crowd went pretty crazy and the energy was definitely there. Occasionally he had to pause for the chants to die down. McCain was also interrupted twice by members of Code Pink, the anti-Bush yahoos who sneak into Republican functions and yell at the speakers. It hardly bothered the Senator, who simply said "Nice to see you again", and then when on with the speech. The members of Code Pink were escorted out, but not arrested.

One of McCain's criticisms is that he looks and sounds old. Yes, he walks with a limp. I don't think you can blame a man who was a POW for five years for having a limp. His speech was about 25 minutes long and was not the speech of an "old man". He did not use a teleprompter, only looking down at a couple of note cards two or three times during his speech. He focused on veterans for much of his speech, including the problems of young people not finding it important to serve in the military any more. He discussed the issues behind war wounded and demanded that all veterans receive better care and better opportunity for education. McCain then went after Obama's inexperience dealing with foreign policy, the bloated spending in government, the global threat of Islamo-facism (is that a word?), and ended with an excellent story about patriotism and his captivity in Vietnam. I was a little surprised that he failed to mention anything about the rising gas prices in the state, or any mention of major economic issues. The senator would address these later, when I would see him again.

After the speech he walked the rope line and shook hands for a good 10 minutes. He also walked up on the stage and shook hands with the people that were behind him during the speech (the photo at the top).

I walked out of the Spanos Jet Center and had no problem with traffic as I drove north on I-5, not towards home, but to my next John McCain political event.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Senior Senator from Arizona

John McCain will be giving a speech in Stockton tomorrow.

I will be on that stage behind him.

Think that's cool?

Can't give anything away yet, but the evening might be even better.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Davis MUN

It was only eight students that wanted to attend the Davis Model United Nations, but I figured that anything that encourages student interest in academic competition and rigor should be followed, so I told the kids that I'd take them.

It has turned into a very entertaining trip so far.

About two weeks ago I made the comment that we were going to make a side trip to Sacramento and watch a River Cats baseball game. For those that don't know, the River Cats are the Triple A team for the Oakland A's. It was totally commented on tongue-in-cheek, I'm a joker like that. Two days later a student comes into the room with a folder and ten tickets to the Friday night game between the Sacramento River Cats and the Salt Lake City Bees (the Angels AAA team). How cool is that! The parents thought it would be cool to make a weekend out of it since we would be in Davis anyhow. Talking about total kindness and generosity.

A couple of kids had never been to a baseball game before, which made the evening more fun because a couple of us ended up describing the game as it went along. Add to that the $1 hot dogs and ice cream cones, and the really neat fly-over by a pair of F-16's, and the general glee of teenagers, and the evening turned out to be really fun. Highlight of the evening? During the seventh inning stretch, they belted out "God Bless America", but didn't play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", which could be considered treason in some states. With looks of shock on their faces, my students took the initiative and started to bellow out the anthem with vigor. The shock was then mine as two whole sections of fans joined in and then gave the kids a round of applause and high-fives. It was just a really neat moment. The van ride back to the hotel (at 10:30 at night) was then a song fest with tunes ranging from The Beach Boys to Bob Marley to fat Toby Keith. All in all, it was just a cool experience and good for the kids.

I'm now at Davis, typing away from a kind student that logged me on through his account. For the third time in a row, the university students failed to get guest access for the college Internet for us. Stanford didn't have it the first night, but immediately fixed the problem in a couple of hours. Berkeley said they couldn't do anything about it, and Davis is just unaware that a problem really exists. Here's a little note for all those Model UN conferences that are run by college students; teachers need the net. Grades, lesson planning, updating blogs, gathering's a lot like being a college student. Access is wonderful and we multi-task just like you do.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It is hot

A couple of things to discuss while the temperature rises.

-It's a little disconcerting that while the end of the year is here, so is the time when students miss my class the most. Some are missing due to the summer blues, but many are just doing so many other school sponsored things. Clubs Day, Car Show, band trip, college exams, athletics, Senior Cut Day, and the worst, the Senior Trip. The Senior Trip is a yearly event where Seniors, chaperoned by teachers, go to some theme park (usually Disneyland) and spend Thursday-Saturday night riding Space Mountain, and trying to get away with little bouts of mischief. The disturbing thing is that I have students that are in danger of, or straight out failing my class. I'm quite interested in how kids with F's make the decision to go miss two days of school at the end of the year to go to Disneyland. I'm also interested in creating a system in which a student with any D's or F's can't go on the Senior trip. Or just canceling it altogether.

-While the heat rises, the neckline plunges, and this year has become a bad year for young ladies to show more skin than is appropriate at a high school. Already this week I've had multiple run ins with girls who come into the classroom looking like they are ready for a Friday night bar-hopping fest in Chico. It becomes a touchy subject with young male teachers telling 18 year old girls to put something on. My advice? First, do it before class and make it quick. Draw little attention to the situation, and let her go to her locker to get clothing without marking her tardy. Second, be professional. When someone complains, a simple "I'm sorry, but that clothing is not appropriate for this classroom" is good enough. If they complain continuously, send them to the office. Third, don't listen to what other students say. They will complain endlessly about "freedom of expression" and that the clothing isn't that bad.......until you find out that most actually consider it slutty. Often I get end-of-the-year comments that commend the fact that I don't allow people to hang out of their clothing. Finally, realize that you might be one of many that actually follow the dress code. I watch teachers interact with students wearing next to nothing (sophomores are the worst) and they don't seem phased by it. You might be taking the hit by enforcing good standards. So what else is new?

-Note to self. If I can't get a parent to chaperon Model UN next year, I will only take seven kids, and no girls. The fact that out of four trips only one parent stepped up is pretty sick, and my wife has ended up taking the burden of dealing with kids. Going to need a little parent help next year or this isn't going to work.

-A counselor told me this week that this is the most Senior failures they had ever seen. My failures are looking about average, with some students having pulled themselves out of the hole nicely over the last two months. I'm also getting a lot of talkers committing to do better, but still missing a day or two a week and expecting to pass. Here's a little piece of information for all those students out there that show me Excused Absences and "18 Year Old" excused absences, I don't care. The 18 year old virus shows up about now where they jaunt in and flash me the pass with the look of "you can't do shit about it". I say "thank you" and mark them excused, and then they never do the make up work. When they complain weeks later that the absence was excused, I remind them that they failed to complete the make up work or quizzes. I have quizzes four days a week. Excused absences don't "get me". They get you.

-I have a new classroom blog, I got tired of seeing wonderful news items for my students and then forgetting to share them. So I created a class blog. I'm also considering having my Government, Economics, and AP Comparative Government students write a blog post every semester as an assignment. AP Comparative would be more, since they need to keep track of more countries. Good blog?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The proper way to address a teacher

The time has come for parents to start calling and e-mailing teachers with the sudden realization that their child has spent the year lying about their grade. It is also the time where teachers that deal with Seniors are now put in the situation of put-up-or-shut-up in terms of grades and graduation. Were my standards all talk, or does the diploma really mean something?

I would say that a good 70% of all parent contact is actually fairly cordial; often parents are unhappy, but more with the effort of the student. Many parents understand that the child is not putting forth the full effort and feel more frustrated about that than a teacher's grading. However, it's the 30% that end up taking up all the time and effort and eroding my patience. Today I'm here to brief parents about the correct way to address teachers, at least this teacher. Now, you might find this to be arrogant, but I think that many parents see the teacher as an obstacle in the way of the kid's success, and I'm just here to tell you that it isn't true. So here are a couple of tips:

1) I really want what is best for your kid. So you ask, "Is not graduating high school what is best for my kid"? If the child did not earn the diploma, yes it is. Trust me, they don't want to learn this lesson when it could cost them their job, their credit, or some other thing that is immensely valuable. I understand that some kids are not used to being told "no", but that isn't how the real world works. You have to work to earn something.

2) Address me as a professional. No matter what the media portrays me as, no matter what you have seen in movies, no matter what preconceptions you might have, I am a professional. What that means is that I'm taking this job very seriously, and you shouldn't think for a second that I'm not aware of the consequences of decisions. While you think that I should let up "because we are talking about kids here," I don't agree, the state government doesn't agree, the federal government doesn't agree, and society won't agree when I allow substandard students to pass my class.

3) Don't vent. Two years ago an administrator told me that you never ever walk out of a meeting with a parent. He then took me and two other teachers into a room with two parents and a child and allowed them to hammer on us (yelling and the whole deal) for 90 minutes. I will never allow that to happen again. If you call me and get in my face, I'll simply say, "we're done here." If you e-mail me with "I refuse", "I insist", or "I demand", then I'll write back with a simple "here's the situation" and be done. I don't have the time nor will I waste energy on you venting on me; I have other students to teach.

4) Understand that some problems will not have the solution that you want. In the end, the student needs to want to pass high school more than the teacher or their parents want them to. If that isn't present, I can't come a solution that results in graduation.

5) You need to understand that I am my own worst critic and therefore consider myself right almost all of the time. Yes, that sounds so, so bad. However, I think that I am a pretty good teacher and that I know what I am expecting out of my classroom. Add to that the confidence I get from past students that have come back time and again to call my class "tough, but fair". Also add to that the fact that I just spent nine months with your kid. Now top it off with the realization that I have a half dozen safety nets there for the student, and that I give students tremendous benefit of the doubt throughout the year. Like I say at the beginning of the year, "You need to work to get an A, and you need to work to get an F."

Now, I might seem petulant and stubborn, but understand that I relate the above to my classroom, not the outside world. Of course I take other variables into consideration (counselors, IEPs, reading levels, on and on...), and they are always involved in the end result. But if my boss comes to be and says, "This student is failing and won't graduate without your class. How confident are you that your choice is correct?" I'll say 100%. I'll have reviewed it over and over, looked at every possible reasoning, and I'll come to that conclusion. Sorry. The F was earned.

Parents need to understand that I really like many kids that fail my class. It sucks to have a kid work so hard until April and then collapse. It's wrenching to watch a kid participate so the 3 out of 5 days that he/she shows up in class. Do you think that I want to see kids in pain? I took this job because I care about kids!

In the end, remember that the people that are dealing with your kids really do care. Treating them like the problem will not make the problem go away, it will just make the end of the year more miserable for everyone involved. Also remember that the time to work on a kid's work habits and academic skills is not March of their Senior year, it's in Kindergarten.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Vote for Coach Brown or another good blog.

I've been nominated on the Best of Blogs for one of the 10 Best Small Education Blogs. That's kind of cool, so if you want you can head on over to Best of Blogs and leave a comment vote for Ukiahcoachbrown.

Then again, I also read most of the other nominees on a regular basis. Standard Deviation, Polski, CalTeachGuy, and Shrewdness are some of the first that I read on my Bloglines daily. If you don't vote for me, hit them up.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Better day

Nothing gets the juices flowing like a good review of the AP Comparative course with a game of Jeopardy.

Seriously, they want blood. I have four groups in a tiered format where students of similar academic levels end up facing each other, and tearing each other apart. I had about 18 catagories and the 1-5 point amounts took a very quick 90 minutes. In the end the kids left with a smile on their face and, hopefully, confident about the AP test.

Speaking of my first AP experience, I heard second hand from a decent student that the CompGov test "wasn't too bad". It was also a reliable student that would give a pretty fair evaluation. Tomorrow I should get a copy of the FRQ's, which I will probably over-analyze for next year's class.

Anyone get early wind of the questions?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bad, Bad Week

I haven't written because I had a miserable week.

I mean seriously miserable.

I wasn't about kids at all. In fact, kids saved the week.

I can't talk about it because I would be discussing people I work with, not the best idea.

In fact, I just erased a huge post that I made about how angry and bitter I am. Posting it does nothing but create more problems. I'll just say this; I think that I'm a very good, not great, teacher. I can name the "great" teachers at the school and I'm not there yet. I will be because I know my weak spots. However, I do my best to be a professional team player. I'll come to campus tomorrow ready to work hard. Work with me, not against me.